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. In recent years, security issues have dominated U.S.- Mexican relations, as the United States has supported Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s campaign against organized crime through the Mérida Initiative, an assistance package first funded in FY2008. Immigration and border security have also returned to the forefront of the bilateral agenda since Arizona enacted a strict law against illegal immigration in April 2010. In response to concerns about border security, President Obama deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to support law enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border in July 2010.
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 5.5% 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.
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. 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 exact assistance amount provided to Mexico for FY2011 in P.L. 112-10 is not yet available. The Administration also requested $333.9 million in assistance for Mexico for FY2012, including roughly $282 million in Mérida assistance. President Obama has recently nominated career diplomat Earl Anthony Wayne to serve as the next 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 $1.5 billion in assistance for Mexico under the Mérida Initiative and expressed concern about the slow delivery of that assistance. In August 2010, Congress approved $600 million in supplemental funds for border security (P.L. 111-230). 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 moves to resolve ongoing disputes related to trucking and tuna with Mexico and facilitate commerce along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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