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Op-Ed

Mexico and the United States Are Already Family—So Let’s Make the Special Relationship More Official

Vanda Felbab-Brown

The United States and Mexico have a special relationship—one that goes beyond administrations and institutional arrangements. Americans and Mexicans are joined by both societal bonds and blood relationships.

The percentage of Hispanics in the U.S. population is approaching 20 percent, and Hispanics are among the fastest-growing minorities in the United States. Two thirds of them are of Mexican origin.

Mexico is a vital trading partner for the United States: for around twenty U.S. states, Mexico is the number-one trading partner. The U.S.-Mexican border, although now deeply affected by violent crime on the Mexican side, has always been not just a line of separation but also a membrane of connection. Violent crime and domestic politics in either country can disrupt established relationships and increase or minimize movement across the border, but they are unlikely to sever the deep family bonds that span the border deep into each country’s territory. The more U.S. citizens of Mexican origin have a voice in the U.S. political system, the more the bonds and connections will become institutionalized as well.

The 2012 elections in both countries present an opportunity to deepen U.S.-Mexican institutional relationships beyond the societal ties. The United States can encourage the rule of law by helping Mexico improve its justice system and law enforcement capacities. It would be unfortunate if domestic politics in either country resulted in the curtailment of security cooperation, which has increased over the past several years. The post-election period should also be seized in the United States to move forward with immigration reform, especially since the numbers of Mexicans crossing illegally are at historic lows. Many of those who continue to cross are driven precisely by the family ties that bond the two countries together.

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