February 15, 2001

On February 15, 2001, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace International Migration Policy Program hosted a breakfast briefing featuring three members of the U.S.-Mexico Migration Panel, which released a report on February 14 to U.S. President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox including proposals to change and improve the relationship of the U.S. and Mexico regarding migration. Speakers included Demetri Papademetriou, Co-Director of the International Migration Policy Program and the U.S. Convenor of the panel; Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum; and B. Lindsay Lowell, Director of Research at Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of International Migration. Deborah W. Meyers, Associate at the International Migration Policy Program, was the moderator.

Demetri Papademetriou commented on the general themes and goals of the panel. The panel avoided making detailed proposals which would only suffer the "death of a thousand cuts," like many proposals do in Washington. It is detailed enough to provide the main principles for discussion and policy and offers several broad ideas. The panel is trying to take advantage of the meeting on February 16 between Presidents Bush and Fox. Papademetriou emphasized that the panel's work is a truly bilateral effort. The report gives an image of how the panel visualizes a different relationship with Mexico and emphasizes the need for a package of integrated proposals and cooperative efforts between the two countries, rather than unilateral single-issue policies. It considers the confluence of economics, demographics, and politics on the issue of migration. In the area of politics, the two new presidents are both former governors and businessmen who understand that their economies are highly integrated and interdependent. Since 1994, two-way trade between the U.S. and Mexico has tripled; Mexico is the U.S.'s second largest trading partner. Labor markets are also integrated. Policy-makers must think regionally, starting with NAFTA. Papademetriou stated that if there is not a commitment to most of the ideas in the report, the policy cannot be successful in changing the terms of the debate over the U.S.-Mexico relationship. The panel has a firm conviction that the status quo has created a black market which undermines law enforcement and causes too many deaths. Frank Sharry spoke next. He said that the panel has been working on the report for six months and included a variety of perspectives. The panel's members wanted to ask if there was a way to refashion the debate about migration between the U.S. and Mexico. They also wanted their proposals to respond to reality. The panel's report calls on the U.S. and Mexico to craft a "grand bargain" that would be mutually beneficial, make migration safe, legal, orderly, and predictable, and decrease migratory pressures over time. The report calls for a reconceptualization of the border as a "line of convergence rather than a line of defense." Sharry listed the four main principles suggested by the panel to guide future discussions:

1. Improve the treatment of Mexican migrants by making legal visas and legal status more widely available and making legality the norm. The panel tried not to be very detailed and wanted to state premises to guide policy-making rather than promote specific policies. One way to make legality the norm is to institute legalizing mechanisms; some examples might be expanding and expediting family visas, expanding work visas, and implementing temporary worker programs. Temporary migration programs should be in response to measurable market needs and should meet certain criteria: equitable labor rights that can be meaningfully enforced, social and health protections, and reasonable options for temporary migrants who qualify to apply for permanent residency. The panel feels that only legalizing migrants in the U.S. or only providing more legal means for those who wish to come to the U.S. will perpetuate the unacceptable status quo; both must be addressed.
2. Call on Mexico to collaborate with the U.S. to reduce illegal migration. There should be cooperative efforts to crack down on smuggling organizations and work together to protect human rights in the border area.
3. Governments should work together to build a viable border region.
4. The long-term solution is the growth of the Mexican economy. Mexico has acknowledged that it must take primary responsibility for its development; however, the NAFTA partners and certain financial institutions should help. Remittance-based development programs are among options to reach this goal.

Sharry emphasized that picking and choosing the elements in the report is likely to undermine the overall effort's effectiveness. Lindsay Lowell said that it is an appropriate time for these issues to be addressed due in part to current and likely future demographics. The Mexican economy is growing rapidly and generating more jobs. Lowell said he sees three particularly important points in the report. The first is that it is a bilateral, grand bargain; the Mexican government is willing to make a change from its past non-involvement in the issue. Second, the report is a whole package whose elements must be taken together. Third, the report suggests incremental action; it is not recommending that the two governments open the border now.

Lowell said that the U.S. must deal with the Mexican migrant population already living in the U.S. There are many ways to address that issue; expanding family visas and work visas is something to discuss and may be among the ways to help solve the issue. The panel also calls for pilot temporary worker programs. The key is Mexico's greater cooperation; the report does not call for elimination of border controls but for an increase in cooperation of many types along the border. Human rights at the border are also important; there must be an effort to stop deaths at the border. The U.S. should facilitate the flow of legal migration. Also, Mexican economic development is important; remittances alone cannot accomplish it, and certain banks and microcredit organizations should be involved.

Meyers said that the U.S. has two neighbors and must consider how these policies affect Canada, as well. The report proposes equal treatment for Mexico and Canada and special treatment for both countries; perhaps Mexico and Canada should be exempt from the normal immigration formula

Summary by Kerry Boyd