WATCH: Members of Congress and experts discuss security, trade, and cooperation on the U.S.-Mexico border

On March 16, the Latin America Initiative at Brookings and the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) co-hosted a two-panel discussion titled, “A complex reality: Security, trade, and the U.S.-Mexico border.” The event explored how new policies for the U.S.-Mexico border can balance the benefits of a continued rise of legal travel and trade with the simultaneous need for Mexico and the United States to work collaboratively to improve border security.

AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth and Harold Trinkunas, Brookings senior fellow and director of the Latin America Initiative, each moderated one of the two panels that were followed by a discussion between Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Brookings Senior Fellow Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s former ambassador to the United States.

Trinkunas opened the event by welcoming Farnsworth and U.S. Representatives from Texas Will Hurd (R) and Beto O’Rourke (D). The three discussed the important trade relationship between the United States and Mexico and the economic impact of border communities—with over $1.5 billion in goods crossing the border every day supporting millions of jobs. Congressmen Hurd and O’Rourke offered their assessment of the U.S.-Mexico border and the need for region-specific and fact-based solutions. Both were troubled by the political rhetoric focusing on border issues and noted that, in many border areas, two cities on either side of the border share a common community—more like one city than two.

Farnsworth then asked both congressmen about the one thing they wish people would understand about the U.S.-Mexico border and surrounding communities. “These are safe communities,” replied Rep. Hurd. “The border has never been more secure in the history of the United States-Mexico border,” said Rep. O’Rourke. Watch their full responses here:

Following that discussion, Trinkunas led the second panel with participants Michael Camuñez of ManattJones Global Strategies, Arizona PBS’ Angela Kocherga, and MIT professor Chappell Lawson. Camuñez began the discussion by highlighting the integrated trading platform between the United States and Mexico and the benefit trade has in creating jobs in both nations. Kocherga followed by offering her assessment of the current situation on the border, largely echoing Representatives Hurd and O’Rourke that border security isn’t a “one-sized fits all” solution. Lawson ended the panelists’ formal remarks by criticizing building a wall as a solution and saying that we’ve reached the point of diminishing marginal returns on additional investments in border security infrastructure.

Camuñez echoed Lawson’s statements and gave Mexico’s take on American campaign rhetoric, stating that “I think the Mexicans are rightfully deeply offended by the rhetoric that is going around.” Watch his remarks on Mexico’s perspective here:

In the final panel, Ambassador Sarukhan was joined by Senator Cornyn for concluding remarks. Senator Cornyn called the relationship between the United States and Mexico a “marriage” that “cannot get a divorce.” This fact, he said, necessitates cooperation between the two nations.

Senator Cornyn highlighted four key areas of the countries’ relationships: ease of transportation, the Southern Mexican border, the need for the United States to do more to fix the “demand” side of the drug trade, and the importance of trade.
Sarukhan asked Senator Cornyn how his constituents view the “profound change” in the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship over the past twenty years. Watch here: 

Sen. Cornyn also addressed the hold that has been placed on Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He placed it in the context of Ms. Jacobson’s recent work on normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations. Watch:

You can watch the full event here.

Jonathan Bosworth contributed to this post.