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Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne will deliver the Hostler Institute's fall lecture on Monday, Sept. 12. Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne will deliver the Hostler Institute's fall lecture on Monday, Sept. 12.

Building Walls or Building Bridges?

A former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico discusses immigration and why border residents don’t support a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.
By SDSU News Team

Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2011 to July 2015, will visit the San Diego State University campus on Monday, Sept. 12, to discuss “Building a Partnership with Mexico.”

His lecture is the first of the semester at the Charles W. Hostler Institute on World Affairs and begins at 7 p.m. in the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center.

The SDSU News Team interviewed Wayne by telephone about U.S.-Mexico border issues that he is likely to discuss during the lecture.

Immigration by unaccompanied minors and others from Central America remains steady while Mexican immigration to the United States has dropped to the lowest level in 20 years and in fact, Mexicans are returning to their native country. How can Mexico and the United States cooperate to address these issues?

One million people legally cross the United States-Mexico border each day. Many of those crossing stay for vacations in the other country. Overnight visitors are estimated to spend $30 billion annually, adding a significant boost to local communities and to the legitimate cross-border commerce between the two countries. Since 2009, there’s been a decline in the net number of Mexicans flowing north to live and an increase in the number going south. Many of the people going back indicate a desire “to go home.” They have worked hard and can afford to live comfortably in Mexico. If we have a well-crafted immigration reform, this is what would happen. Mexicans seeking to come to the United States would work to save money and then go back to live in their local communities with friends and families.

The other big immigration trend is Central Americans flowing north. That flow hit a high point in 2013 and 2014, but it continues and could increase again. The underlying reason to leave El Salvador and Honduras is violence, while Guatemalans are fleeing poverty. Many of those coming are unaccompanied minors or mothers with children who turn themselves in to U.S. officials and apply to stay under various legal provisions. Mexico is working to stem this flow too. In 2015, Mexican officials sent some 175,000 people back to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In fiscal 2015, U.S. border officials apprehended about 135,000 Central Americans at the U.S.-Mexican border. It's clear that Mexico has been successful in stemming some of the migration before it reaches our border.

In addition, the United States and Mexico have taken a number of steps to reduce violence and coordinate better along our common border. This includes a new communication system so we can talk with Mexican border security officials more quickly about potential incidents and new protocols for handling deportations. Such steps have improved the atmosphere, and we’ve seen a significant drop in border violence.

How can Mexico and the United States move forward in a more comprehensive and united fashion to address the problem of drug cartel-related violence in Mexico?

There is still too much smuggling of drugs, arms, money and people. These illicit networks operate in both countries and the illicit flows go in both directions—drugs and people head north and arms and money head south. Since 2009, the United States has spent around $1.5 billion to provide training and equipment for Mexican police, law enforcement and judicial authorities, and the Mexicans have probably spent 10-12 times that much to increase the professionalism and effectiveness of their services. Their federal forces are now more effective, but the state-based forces have not improved significantly, except in a few states, including Baja. There is much work still to do to establish a professional corps of well-trained police.

How has Donald Trump’s proposal for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border impacted relations between the two countries?

Building a wall along the entire border would be very costly for questionable return. As was clear from the exchange following Mr. Trump’s visit to Mexico, the Mexican government opposes the wall and says it will not pay to build it. When a recent poll asked the opinions of people living on both sides of the border, 65 percent of U.S. residents and 75 percent of Mexican residents said a wall should not be built. They also said the countries need to do more to fight illegal arms and drug trafficking. People acknowledge there are problems but they don’t see a wall as a solution. Solutions to the threats surrounding the border are likely to come from building a better partnership with Mexico to address the illicit flows, as well as using a range of enforcement tools on our side of the border.

On a related topic, some have alleged that Mexicans are taking American jobs and that our trade agreement with Mexico has hurt the U.S. economy. A number of serious economic studies have shown that the main causes of manufacturing job losses in the United States after 2000 were the introduction of new technology in manufacturing and China’s economic expansion. In fact, 5-6 million current U.S. jobs are supported by our massive trade relationship with Mexico. The country is our second largest export market and our third largest trading partner. The solution to U.S. manufacturing job losses is not to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); it’s to retrain and educate our workers for the new technologically advanced jobs that give America the advantage today. Economies evolve by developing new strengths, and that is what the U.S. economy needs to do today to stay competitive in the world.

About Ambassador Wayne

Earl Anthony Wayne was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a career ambassador, the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 2011 through July 2015, and served in Kabul, Afghanistan, from 2009 to 2011, first as coordinating director for development and economic affairs and then as deputy ambassador.

Wayne currently works as a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a non-executive director on the Financial System Vulnerabilities Committee of HSBC bank in Mexico.

He also serves as a non-resident senior advisor at the Atlantic Council and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.  This fall, he is teaching at Hamilton College as the Sol M. Linowitz Visiting Professor of International Affairs.