At Panel on U.S.–Mexico Relations, Experts Talk Border Wall, Deportations, Trade

One panelist said any negotiation about paying for the wall would be “unpresentable in Mexico.”


By Jorge Ernesto Clavo Abbass, Contributor

On February 7, a panel of four experts gathered at Saieh Hall to discuss Mexico’s future in light of the Trump administration’s positions.

The event was co-hosted by the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at the University of Chicago and the Centro de Investigación y Docencias Económicas (CIDE). Emilio Kourí, director of the Katz Center, moderated the discussion. 

To begin the event, panel members gave brief lectures on their areas of expertise.

Carlos Bravo Regidor, professor of journalism and history at CIDE and a University alum, presented on binational and domestic politics and foreign relations. 

Regarding the Mexican government’s response to Trump, “the crucial factor […] is [the] weakness of Mexican government at all levels. [Enrique] Peña Nieto (the president of Mexico) is a weak leader for a moment of emergency… [he] was unable or unwilling to make Trump into a piñata for national unity, and instead became the piñata himself,” Bravo Regidor said. 

 “Trump’s Twitter drives Mexican foreign policy these days,” he said, adding that Mexico is presently characterized by “a quick and powerful resurgence of anti-American sentiments.” Were there to be negotiations with Trump, he said, “the results would be unpresentable in Mexico.”

Amy Glover, director of McLarty Associates, based in Washington, DC, spoke about business, investment, and international trade. 

Glover focused on dismantling the arguments against economic integration that Trump has long espoused. Addressing Trump’s perspective on trade, Glover said that “trade is not a zero-sum game” and offered an analogy, whereby trade is not “like the WWF. You don’t just slam someone down and claim victory. There is a winner and a loser in [Trump’s] book. Regional economic integration is like rowing together in unison.”

Glover emphasized the power Mexico has as an “exporting powerhouse.” If trade slows, Glover argued, the American consumer is the one who will suffer. “Americans have gotten so used to consuming products that are competitively priced,” she said. “You’re going to pay more for your clothes, your avocados, your cars…”

Gerardo Esquivel, an economist from El Colegio de México and a former visiting professor at the University, spoke about the economy, finances, and NAFTA. 

Esquivel said that in the current Mexican economic perspective on Trump there is a great sense of urgency, but some optimism persists. He acknowledged that although “NAFTA is not as good for Mexico as Trump believes”, departing NAFTA would still be a costly proposition. He expressed the need for “doses of realism…. we [Mexicans] need to think about what we should do [regarding Trump].”

In response to Trump, the Mexican peso has depreciated, making Mexican imports cheaper and more demanded in the United States—the exact opposite of what Trump intends, Esquivel said. The only way Trump can achieve his intended results is through trade deficit reduction, which is only possible through “destroy[ing] NAFTA.” 

“We need to start thinking about a world without NAFTA, on both sides of the border,” Esquivel said.

Jorge Durand, a professor at the University of Guadalajara and the CIDE and a visiting professor at the University, addressed the topics of migration and immigrants, the border, and the wall. 

Currently, most deportations occur at the border, but Durand expects additional removals within the interior of the United States under the Trump administration, thanks to a proposal to hire 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. 

“[Over] the next years, there will be 2 million to 2.5 million [people deported] that we can consider binational, bilingual, or bicultural. This is an incredible gift of human and ethnic interaction,” Durand said. 

According to Durand, Mexicans consider the wall “an affront” and “a hostile act with a neighbor.” Regarding payment for the wall, Durand emphasized that there is no example in modern history where a country has paid for a neighboring country’s border wall. 

Durand closed by stating that mass deportation will not solve the issue. “For more than 100 years, employers [in Texas and other states] have demonstrated [an] addiction to illegal labor. Do you think this addiction is curable?”

The floor was then opened to questions from the moderator and the public. There was a tense moment when a self-identified “Mexican-American community member” said he felt “angry and insulted” that the panel did not address Mexican immigrants in the U.S. 

Kourí defended his design of the panel, noting that the panel was meant to address the views of these issues from Mexico’s perspective. Kourí said he had considered inviting someone to the panel to speak about the Mexican experience in the U.S., but decided to host a separate event for that conversation.

“If the issues regarding Mexicans in the U.S. were not addressed in the panel, it is because it is not an interest under the Mexican government,” Kourí said. “Your concerns are not in Mexico; they are here. Your concerns were not ignored because they do not matter, but because they fall outside of the purview of the panel.”

This event was the first part of a two-part series. The second event will offer American perspectives to a similar audience in Mexico within the near future.