Fernández de Castro speaks
on the absence of Mexico from the U.S.
foreign policy agenda in the wake of
September 11, and argues that a promising
chance for new migration policy was lost.
United States and Mexico: Two Nations Looking
Towards the Future While Learning From the
Shannon Gleeson, Sociology
evening, Prof. Harley Shaiken (Professor of
Education and Geography and Chair of the Center
American Studies at UC Berkeley) and Dr. Rafael
Fernández de Castro (Professor of Political
Science and Chair of the Department of International
Studies at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo
de México) engaged in a lively discussion
about the state of U.S.-Mexico relations in
the two years since the election of Pres. George
W. Bush in the United States and Pres. Vicente
Fox in Mexico.
Fernández opened the discussion with a
summary of U.S.-Mexico relations since the inaugurations
of Fox and Bush. Two years ago, what would come
to be known as the “Whole Enchilada” was
beginning to take shape. Foreign minister Jorge
Castañeda pressured Pres. Fox to make
Mexico a priority for the Bush administration,
and an agreement was put on the table that would “have
a little bit for everyone.” Two of the
most important elements of this agreement were
1) the regularization of legal status for Mexicans
already in the United States (a request by Latino
organizations and unions) and 2) the reinstatement
of a guest worker program (which many employers
support). The talks gained momentum during Pres.
Fox’s well-received visit to Congress from
Sept. 5–7, 2001. This euphoric stage
ended on Sept. 11, 2001 when the possibility
passing an agreement was crushed by the terrorist
spite of recent set-backs, Fernández remains
optimistic about the long-term possibility of
a future agreement. He believes that a crucial
change is needed in U.S.-Mexico relations in
light of major contradictions in the history
of the two nations. While Mexico was the biggest
trade partner of the United States in 2000, in
that same year 490 Mexicans died crossing the
border illegally. According to Fernández, “the
migration status quo cannot continue.” In
the short-term Fernández emphatically
stressed that Mexico needs to “look inwards
and put its house in order.” Issues such
as domestic economic reform and Mexico’s
treacherous southern border must be dealt with
in order to prepare for the possibility of
Fernández’ statements, Prof. Harley
Shaiken put forth three paradoxes that he believes
define U.S.-Mexico relations. First of all, although
there are millions of Americans and Mexicans
who are affected by the fate of this relationship,
Mexico no longer seems to be on the Bush agenda.
Secondly, the Latino vote is crucial for both
parties. Thirdly, there is a significant lack
of shared vision to improve this relationship
despite newfound cooperation in previously contested
areas such as anti-drug trafficking measures.
Shaiken also noted the importance of the bold
character of former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda
who was integral to Fox’s agenda vis à vis
the United States at the beginning of his presidency.
Castañeda was able to make Mexico an important “interlocutor” with
powerful American interest groups such as unions,
environmentalists and Latino organizations.
This began an important process of bridging
however, Prof. Shaiken does not share his colleague’s
optimism about the future of a binational agreement
on migration. Like Fernández, he was present
during Fox’s visit to Washington. However,
Shaiken believes that what is now needed is to “turn
the NAFTA coalition on his head.” He stated
that Castañeda underestimated the difficulty
of rallying support around such an agreement.
Shaiken added that to push now for a “development
fund” for Mexico is nearly impossible
in light of the looming specter of a trillion
deficit and the need for services in the U.S.
Prof. Shaiken put forth three final issues
that he sees as crucial: 1) the status quo
migration to the United States, which he also
believes is no longer workable, 2) the importance
of water and the border, and lastly 3) the
broader relationship of the two countries.
the question is not whether these issues will
be dealt with, but when and how well. According
to Shaiken, any solution must include several
important dimensions. For example, an incremental
approach must be situated within the context
of a broader vision. Also, regional and local
actions will be very important to laying the
groundwork for positive relations in the future.
Lastly, Shaiken reiterated his call for deeper
cross-border links between civil societies,
which he believes can occur through discussions
as this one, which was part of a larger series,
the U.S.-Mexico Futures Forum.
discussion ended with questions from key audience
members such as Prof. Alex Saragoza of the Chicano
Studies Department and Sandy Tolan, a Hewlett
Foundation Teaching Fellow at the School of Journalism.
The dialogue was moderated by Professor Lydia
Chavez, who teaches in the Graduate School of
Journalism and is Chair of the Faculty Advisory
Committee of the Center for Latin American Studies.
Shaiken argues that the U.S.-Mexican
relationship in the near-future will
continue to revolve around paradoxes
of migration and trade.
Shaiken and Fernández
de Castro chat after the
talk with (from left) Bernardo
Mendez, Press Consul to
the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco,
and Professor Alex Saragoza.