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Tuesday, September 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). In recent years, security issues have dominated U.S.-Mexican relations, as the United States has supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón's campaign against drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) through bilateral security cooperation initiatives including the Mérida Initiative, an anti-crime and counterdrug assistance package first funded in FY2008. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona enacted a controversial state law against illegal immigration (S.B. 1070) on April 23, 2010. In late July 2010, a federal judge blocked large parts of S.B. 1070 from taking effect pending the results of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. In response to rising concerns about border security, President Obama has deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to support law enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border and Congress has approved $600 million in supplemental funds for border security (P.L. 111-230). 

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. 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. The PRI won nine of the twelve governorships contested in the July 4, 2010 elections, while the PAN's alliance with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) captured three governorships. 

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. 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 Obama Administration asked for $346.6 million in assistance for Mexico in its FY2011 budget request, including $310 million in Mérida Initiative funding. 

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 $1.5 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, including $175 million in funds for justice sector programs included in the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 4899/P.L. 111- 212). 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 National Guard troops are being 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: September 2, 2010
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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