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What the U.S.-Mexico border teaches us about living globally today

It’s time to step back from the heated politics and bitter partisan debate over children, mothers and unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Central America right now.

Seen in a global context, the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border reveal far wider currents of globalizing economic and social integration.  For better solutions to these problems, we need more constructive global policy thinking — now and into the future.

1.  The U.S.-Mexico border is a regional border — well beyond just Mexico — with economic fortunes of multiple players tied together and transnational implications.  

The busiest, most transited in the world, with 350 million legal crossings each year, our southern border is actually a North-South border, a gateway to the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Economic growth in many countries in this region rank as among the fastest emerging economies in the world:  Mexico, Panama, and Brazil.  It is here that the middle class is rising, wages are increasing, governments are reforming and becoming more transparent, and opportunities are growing.

We typically think of our southern border as restricted to Mexico and the southwestern U.S. border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  Actually, in terms of global flows of capital, people, and investment, our border extends to Florida.

For example, Miami is the investment capital for Latin America and the Caribbean basin today, home to more foreign banks and investment firms than even New York City.

2.  Mexico stands as the shinning example of prosperity and stability for the region — it’s not the source of the problem

Changing patterns of flow of people, goods and money are changing the dynamics in the region forever.

Improvements in infrastructure in Mexico now allows agricultural products to be grown in Mexico and transported north to markets in the U.S.  Thus, what used to be produced in the U.S. using farm labor from Mexico is now being produced in Mexico and imported into the U.S. from Mexico — the result is a higher value-add for Mexico.

Mexico has taken steps to open its previously nationalized oil company (Pemex) to private interests.  While some have cited issues with privatization as the source of  inequality and environmental concerns, this privation will only contribute further to Mexico’s rising tide of direct foreign investment, trade, and growth.
3.  National interests here at home in the U.S. are joined at the hip with the need to help foster the rule of law in Central America.

Gangs, corruption, and violence against women are at the root of the problems in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.  It is in the national interest of the United States to foster stability and rule of law in the region.  And strengthening civil society in Central America — through NGOs — is the best policy choice here in the U.S.

One notable example that policy makers might consider is that of Guatemala attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz.  Her innovative efforts to go after organized crime and stop violence against women in Guatemala has won her international praise from the likes of Forbes Magazine who named her one of the “five most powerful women changing the world” in 2010.  Ms. Paz y Paz has been named as a top candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

According to the UN Development Programme, violence is estimated to have cost Guatemala $2.6 billion in 2006, deterring tourism and reducing GDP.

As Americans consider policy choices, the best way to counter problems of violence and corruption and help foster rule of law is to ask those countries affected what they need to address the problems.  NGOs have proven to be among the most effective tools to funnel aid and services to needed areas.