Oh, Mexico

When James Taylor sang about our southern neighbor in 1975, Mexico sounded “so sweet with the sun sinking low / Moon’s so bright like to light up the night / Make everything all right.” Today, everything is not all right.

A recent University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute report confirms increasing violence. Organized crime-driven killings grew from 2,800 in 2007 to more than 15,000 last year. Nearly half of last year’s homicides were in the four Mexican states that border Texas.

The turmoil is driving many Mexicans of means to transfer wealth and family to San Antonio.

Mexicans account for many high end retail and real estate purchases in north and northwest San Antonio. How much of the activity is prompted by the violence is debatable, but it clearly falls between some and significant.

The boost to our local economy is bittersweet. Long-term, we would be better off with a stable, healthy and economically growing Mexico. We are naive to think the violence will automatically restrain itself at the border.

The desire for a strong southern neighbor moved Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) almost two decades ago. Unfortunately, one provision of the treaty has yet to implemented: long-haul, cross-border trucking.

Currently, U.S. and Mexican cargo trucks cannot move quickly across the border or travel on each other’s highways. Union-driven safety concerns stalled the initiative for years before the Bush Administration instituted a program in 2007 to move the provision forward.

Mysteriously, President Obama nixed the program when he took office. As a result, Mexico instituted tariffs on a list of of American exports. Sales of those products in Mexico dropped 81%, forcing Mr. Obama to reconsider. Big Labor is still opposed.

Ed Sills with the Texas AFL-CIO: “We are against the NAFTA trucking provision. [It] will eventually eliminate solid middle-class jobs in trucking and ports.”

Such classic protectionism will only help keep Mexico in the third world. Doing what we said we’d do 17 years ago will help bring it out.

A serendipity: long-haul trucking will strengthen San Antonio’s industrial real estate market. Companies will be able to locate distribution centers here instead of along the border since Monterrey can be reached in a day if cargo doesn’t have to change trucks or wait in long lines.

Immigration reform – defined as a better, faster method of documenting Mexican citizens for manual service in the U.S. – will also strengthen Mexico and relieve pressure at the border. It will reduce human trafficking and payments to organized crime rings.

Reform would make it safer and simpler for workers to return more often to Mexico, a society that needs the positive influence of as many honest, hardworking people as possible. Presently, every trip back and forth is a life-threatening proposition.

Mexico provides a labor supply that our economy demands. We need a focused, limited system that meets the needs of all parties involved while taking advantage of none. Immigration reform, along with long-haul trucking, are two steps to make our neighbor safer and stronger.

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