Salsa and Apple Pie
An American-Mexican Union in the Making
By Steven Hill
Immigration issues are always ripe for demagoguery, particularly in a
presidential election year. Yet rarely do the bumper sticker slogans match
the complex reality along the U.S.-Mexican border.
That reality is being driven fast by surging
population demographics. A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau predicts
that the number of Latinos and Asians will triple in the United States,
and by 2050 whites will comprise only 50 percent of the nation’s
population. Latinos are by far the fastest-growing population. By 2050
most of the U.S. will look like California today. And California will look
more like… Mexico.
For some people, these changes are alarming. We can
expect to see a new crop of demagogues calling for closing and
militarizing the border. But economic disparities guarantee that poor
Mexicans will continue seeking entry into El Norte, legally or illegally.
If we can’t shut out Mexicans seeking a better life,
and we can’t just throw open the border, what else can we do? There is a
third way that holds great promise: gradual integration of the two
political economies. That process already has begun, but it has been
resisted and resulted in the wrong regulatory scheme — the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
For an idea of how this integration can proceed
better, look toward the European Union. In May 2004, the 15 nations of the
E.U. integrated 10 new nations, becoming the largest advanced political
economy in the world, a powerful free-trading bloc of 450 million people.
Yet the 10 new nations are poorer than the other 15 — just like Mexico is
poorer than the United States.
European Union leaders wisely created policies for
fostering regional integration that make American efforts like NAFTA look
timid. They realized they had to prevent a “giant sucking sound” of
businesses and jobs relocating from the wealthier to the poorer nations.
They also had to foster economic growth and the spread of a middle class
in these emerging economies, and prevent a mass exodus of poor workers to
the developed nations.
So they gave the new member states massive subsidies
— billions of dollars worth — to help with the construction of schools,
roads, telecommunications, and housing, making these nations more
attractive for business investment. The idea is to raise up the emerging
economies, rather than drag down the advanced economies. It will be
expensive, but the result will be a larger economic union where a rising
tide floats all boats.
In return, the 10 poorer nations must agree to raise
their standards on the environment, labor laws, health, and safety, so
that predatory corporations looking to exploit cheap labor and
deregulation won’t find that by relocating. There won’t be any border
maquiladoras in the European Union.
But Europe’s union is not just an economic one — it
also includes continent-wide political institutions, including a European
Parliament and an executive commission where all 25 nations are
The European Union signals the direction that border
policy between the U.S. and Mexico needs to go. At some point it will make
sense to move the North American regional integration out of the realm of
a shadow economy and flawed free trade agreement. But what might such an
American-Mexican Union look like?
It would start with massive subsidies from the U.S.
to Mexico, with the goal of decreasing disparities on the Mexican side of
the border and fostering a climate riper for investment. This would create
more jobs in Mexico, and foster a growing middle class, complete with
homeownership, schools, roads, and health care. A larger middle class
would result in fewer Mexicans desiring to emigrate north, and create more
consumers buying American products. The rising tide would float all boats,
a kind of Marshall Plan for Mexico. But here’s an even more intriguing
We always assume that if we open the border, hordes
of Mexicans will stream into the U.S. But under this scenario, we would
see something new and different — Americans would begin emigrating to
Mexico. Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Houston are all closer to Mexico City
than to New York City or Washington, D.C. The cost of housing is cheaper
in Mexico, and so is the cost of living. All things being closer to equal,
many American workers will relocate to Mexico in search of jobs and
homeownership, even to start businesses. They would chase the American
Dream… in Mexico.
By 2050 not only will the rest of the United States
look like California today, and California look more like Mexico, but
Mexico will look more like the U.S. Already we see the beginnings of this,
with American expatriate communities springing up around places like
This kind of regional integration is the future for
the United States and Mexico. It is happening already. And as that process
unfolds, regional political structures will make more sense, perhaps
including an American-Mexican parliamentary body. Canada, not wishing to
be left out, will ask for inclusion.
Of course George Bush and John Kerry will not talk
about these issues, since their pollsters tell them to avoid anything
controversial. Expect American politicians to stick to bumper sticker
slogans and avoid the reality of border issues until they are overtaken by
the surging tide. But that day is looming closer with each passing
Steven Hill is senior analyst for Center for
Voting and Democracy (www.fairvote.org)
in San Francisco, California and author of “Fixing Elections: The Failure
of America’s Winner Take All Politics” (www.FixingElections.com).