Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mexico: Issues for Congress

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

The United States and Mexico have a close and complex bilateral relationship. As neighbors and partners under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States and Mexico have extensive economic linkages, with bilateral trade valued at almost $400 billion in 2010. In recent years, security issues have dominated the bilateral relationship, and the United States is providing more than $1.6 billion worth of training and equipment to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative to support efforts against drug trafficking and organized crime. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona became the first state to enact a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010.

Now in the fifth year of his six-year term, President Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is focused on strengthening the Mexican economy, which grew by 5.5% in 2010 after contracting by 6.5% in 2009, and combating organized crime and drug trafficking. The Calderón Administration has arrested record numbers of drug kingpins, but the brazen violence committed by the warring criminal groups, partially in response to government efforts, has led to increasing criticism of Calderón’s strategy.

Security and the economy are the top two concerns among the Mexican public, and are likely to be major electoral issues in the July 2012 elections. Surveys show likely Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the state of Mexico, leading all other potential presidential candidates. The PRI’s prospects for winning back the presidency in 2012 have improved since its candidates won by wide margins in gubernatorial elections held on July 3, 2011 in the states of Mexico, Nayarit, and Coahuila.

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, but tensions have emerged in the bilateral relationship. After a March 3, 2011 meeting at the White House, President Obama and President Calderón vowed to bolster bilateral security cooperation and announced a proposal to resolve a longstanding trade dispute regarding NAFTA trucking provisions. Behind the scenes, however, relations have reportedly been strained by the February 2011 shooting of two U.S. law enforcement agents working in Mexico, one of whom was killed, and the March 2011 resignation of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual. Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat, has recently been confirmed as the new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

Congress has maintained an active interest in Mexico with counternarcotics, border, and trade issues dominating the agenda. Congress has appropriated more than $1.6 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative, including roughly $143 million provided in P.L. 112-10 for the remainder of FY2011, and expressed concern about the slow delivery of that assistance. The Obama Administration requested $334 million in assistance for Mexico for FY2012, including $282 million in Mérida assistance. The 112th Congress is likely to maintain a keen interest in how implementation of the Mérida Initiative and related border security initiatives are proceeding. Congress may consider proposals for comprehensive immigration reform or initiatives aimed at resolving discrete migration or border security issues. On the trade front, Congress is likely to maintain interest in how the Obama Administration implements a new pilot trucking program with Mexico and seeks to facilitate commerce along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Date of Report: September 2, 2011
Number of Pages: 43
Order Number: RL32724
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.