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Monday, June 14, 2010

Mexico-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship, with extensive economic linkages as neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). U.S.-Mexican relations are characterized by strong commercial and cultural ties and cooperation on a range of bilateral and international issues. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral agenda, as the United States has supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón's campaign against drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona enacted a controversial state law against illegal immigration (SB 1070) on April 23, 2010, a measure opposed by President Barack Obama. On May 25, 2010, in response to rising state and local concerns about border security, President Obama authorized sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to support law enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Now in the fourth year of his six-year term, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is focused on restarting the Mexican economy, which contracted by 7% in 2009 (largely as a result of the U.S. recession), and combating drug traffickers and organized criminal groups in Mexico. Although the Calderón Administration has arrested several top drug kingpins, the persistent and increasingly brazen violence committed by the DTOs has led to significant criticism of Calderón's anti-drug strategy. As the 2012 presidential elections approach, the Mexican Congress, which is now dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), could be reluctant to give President Calderón any major legislative victories. 

In recent years, U.S.-Mexican relations have grown stronger as the two countries have worked together to combat drug trafficking and secure their shared border. President Obama met with President Calderón in Mexico on April 16-17, 2009, to discuss counterdrug cooperation, immigration reform, and climate change. The leaders met again in August 2009 alongside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the North American Leaders Summit in Guadalajara, Mexico to discuss how to coordinate their responses to the global economic crisis, climate change, and security issues. On May 19, 2010, President Calderón traveled to Washington D.C. for a state visit with President Obama during which both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working together on a wide range of bilateral issues. 

The 111th Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border, and trade issues dominating the agenda. To date, Congress has appropriated some $1.3 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, an anti-crime and counterdrug package first funded in FY2008. The Senate-passed version of, H.R. 4899, the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations measure, would provide $175 million in additional assistance for Mérida-related programs in Mexico. The House is reportedly considering inserting additional funds for justice sectors programs in Mexico and for border security into its version of the supplemental measure. The Obama Administration asked for $346.6 million in assistance for Mexico in its FY2011 budget request, including $310 million in Mérida-related funding. Congress is likely to maintain a keen interest in how implementation of the Mérida Initiative and related border security initiatives are proceeding, particularly now that the President has authorized National Guard troops to be sent to the Southwest border. Congress may also consider proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. On the trade front, Congress is likely to maintain interest in how the Obama Administration moves to resolve the current trucking dispute with Mexico now that P.L. 111-117 would permit the resumption of a U.S.- funded pilot program for Mexican trucks.

Date of Report: June 3, 2010
Number of Pages:40
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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