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Strengthen Ties Between California and Mexico

Border: We need to focus on four key areas to improve the irreversible reality that the two societies will become closer.

May 18, 1999

No country is more important for California than Mexico, our second-largest trading partner and export market and the country of origin for millions of people in our state. California's Mexico connection has grown apace in the past 20 years, as the flow of capital, labor and ideas across both sides of the border has accelerated. Mexico's proximity affects virtually every aspect of life in California: trade, investment and labor as well as education, health, environment, law enforcement, sports, religion, the media, politics, culture and cuisine. Increasingly intimate relations between Mexico and California are an irreversible reality, not an option.

Yet most California public policymakers and civic, corporate and professional leaders have not focused enough on California's growing connection with Mexico. When Mexico has been discussed in politics and the media, it has often been in negative terms.

The reciprocal visits by Gov. Gray Davis in February and President Ernesto Zedillo this week suggest that leaders on both sides of the border now recognize the significance of the California-Mexico connection, but these summit meetings require vigorous follow-up. To strengthen the future of both California and Mexico, attention and cooperation are needed in four key areas: economic and social investment, immigration, border development and education.

Economic and Social Investment

The stronger Mexico's economy becomes, the more robust a trading partner Mexico will be; employment levels in Mexico will rise, reducing the pressures for migration. California's businesses and government should work together to expand the markets for California products throughout Mexico's interior. California's government should facilitate mechanisms by which immigrant savings sent back home can be combined with local Mexican resources to improve job prospects in the communities that send most migrants to California.

California and Mexico should also expand work-force training programs in order to enhance productivity and build a binational regional advantage in industrial growth sectors; expedite border crossings and improve air service; ensure sustainable sources of water supply; and, more broadly, nurture opportunities for expanded mutual investment and trade.

Dealing With Immigration

Immigration from Mexico to California is both a source of dynamism for our state and at times a strain on our social fabric. By almost any reckoning, the overall economic impact of immigrants on the state's economy is positive, but that is not true for every region or every Californian. Immigration is a vital flow and yet the impact of illegal immigration is also a recurrent source of bilateral tensions as some workers are displaced, vulnerable people are exploited, schools and services are under stress.

California should work actively with Mexico, directly and through federal channels, to develop mutually acceptable ways of managing migration flows so that labor needs are met and the rights both of migrants and of native-born citizens are protected. We propose that California and Mexico establish a joint task force to focus on how to improve the contribution Mexican immigrants make both to California and to their home communities, how to reduce the tensions to which undocumented immigration contributes, and what changes in federal law and practice should jointly be recommended.

Development on the Border

California and Mexico have much to gain from reinforcing increasingly close cooperation at the border: by creating new financing mechanisms for infrastructure investment; improving cross-border regional planning; linking transportation grids and coordinating airport, rail and seaport development in the San Diego-Tijuana region; confronting environmental challenges; developing cross-border mortgage instruments and binational, portable health insurance products; and fashioning other means to reinforce complementarity and mutual advantage.

The Challenge of Education

Mexico and California can do much more together to confront the challenge of education at all levels, by drawing upon each other's experience in teaching language, for example. Better understanding of each other's societies could result from improved treatment in California's textbooks and curricula of Mexico's heritage, and in Mexican textbooks and curricula of the California experience, including its strong Mexican-American contribution.

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