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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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 response to rising concerns about border security, President Obama deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to support law enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border and the 111th Congress approved $600 million in supplemental funds for border security (P.L. 111-230).

Now in the fifth year of his six-year term, President Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is focused on strengthening the Mexican economy, which grew by 5% in 2010 after contracting by 6% in 2009, and combating organized crime and drug trafficking. 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. In the absence of FY2011 appropriations legislation, the 111
th Congress passed a series of continuing resolutions (P.L. 111- 242 as amended) to fund government programs, with the latest extension set to expire on March 4, 2011. The Continuing Resolution, as amended, continues funding most programs at the FY2010-enacted level, with some exceptions. On February 14, 2011, the Obama Administration submitted its FY2012 budget request to Congress. The request includes at least $328.6 million in assistance for Mexico, including roughly $289.8 million in Mérida-related assistance.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congress has appropriated some $1.5 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative and expressed concern about the slow delivery of that assistance. The 112
th 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 on 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 ongoing disputes related to trucking and tuna with Mexico, facilitate commerce along the U.S.-Mexico border, and deepen cooperation under NAFTA.

Date of Report: February 15, 2011
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

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