Group Title: Current policy - Department of State
Title: U.S.-Mexican relations and the undocumented alien problem
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 Material Information
Title: U.S.-Mexican relations and the undocumented alien problem
Series Title: Current policy - Dept. of State
Physical Description: 8 p. : ; 27 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Nimetz, Matthew
United States -- Dept. of State. -- Office of Public Communication
Publisher: Dept. of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Public Communication
Place of Publication: Washington
Publication Date: 1978
Subject: Aliens -- United States   ( lcsh )
Foreign relations -- United States -- Mexico   ( lcsh )
Foreign relations -- Mexico -- United States   ( lcsh )
Genre: federal government publication   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Spatial Coverage: Mexico
United States of America
General Note: Speech before the Conference on Select Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations in Phoenix on November 16.
General Note: November 1978.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00087341
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 05391821

Full Text



Current Policy

No. 46
November 1978

Bureau of Public Affairs
Office of Public Communication

U.S.-Mexican Relations and the Undocumented Alien Problem

Matthew Nimetz, Counselor of the Department, before
the Conference on Select Issues in U.S.-Mexican Re-
lations in Phoenix on November 16.

During this last quarter of the 20th century,
the United States and Mexico together face
serious challenges that will present a real test of
the friendly relations between our nations. For
a variety of reasons, it is more necessary than
ever that we maintain a positive, constructive
relationship to enhance the prospects for con-
tinued growth and development in both coun-
tries. The United States and Mexico are each
undergoing important changes-demographic,
social, political, economic. We Americans have
been surprised to discover that Mexico is no
longer a small, poor country but rather a large,
potentially wealthy nation with a population
greater than any country in Western Europe
and with potential oil reserves approaching
those of the major Middle East oil producers.
Since the inaugurations almost two years ago of
President Lopez Portillo in Mexico and Jimmy
Carter in the United States, we have seen new
opportunities and problems arise as well as old
ones take on added urgency. Our challenge will
be to manage successfully the increasing inter-
dependence in our relationship at a time when
the number of diverse interests will be growing.
One significant change in this country over
the past decade has been an increased under-
standing that events in Mexico can have a deep
and lasting effect on us. Nowhere is this more

obvious than along the border where there is a
true commingling of people, cultures, and
economies and where the United States most
directly experiences the reality of modern
Americans living in the border region have
always been aware of the rich Hispanic pieces in
the American mosaic. However, the rest of the
country has only recently begun to recognize
the strong influence of Hispanic culture in the
United States. Many Americans are surprised to
learn that 20 million of our people speak
Spanish, that 58 Spanish newspapers and maga-
zines are published in the United States, that
over 450 radio and television stations have at
least some spanish-language programming.
There are several factors contributing to this
growing awareness throughout the United
States of the Hispanic contributions to our soci-
ety. As we have improved and expanded our
democratic processes over the past two decades,
many groups from all areas of the country have
developed a significant voice in setting our na-
tional policies and priorities. Increased Hispanic
representation at the Federal, State, and local
levels of government is merely one of the man-
ifestations of this political development that has
led to the increased attention to Hispanic con-
cerns. The increasing flow of Latin immigrants
into the United States over the past decade and
the more recent trend of many to settle far
from the border area has reinforced this
heightened awareness. Finally, the Hispanic

community is more united than ever before,
more determined, and thus more able to par-
ticipate effectively in our democratic processes.
Added to these domestic changes in our own
country are the real and potential effects of
dramatic economic and social changes in
Mexico itself.
As a result of these internal and external
factors, our attention is increasingly drawn to
the lands and people south of the Rio Grande,
and, in particular, to Mexico. This is true not
only at the foreign policy level but also, perhaps
more significantly, from the perspective of
domestic considerations and the inevitable ef-
fect events to the south have on us.
Dominating the relationship between the
United States and Mexico is the fact that of ut-
most importance to the United States is a
friendly, stable, progressive Mexico. In addi-
tion, but sometimes left unsaid, it is of utmost
importance to Mexico that there be a friendly,
stable, progressive United States. Both countries
have a responsibility to assure that nothing is
done that interferes with this basic, mutual goal.
When this responsibility demands cooperation,
both must cooperate. When this demands ac-
commodation, both must accommodate. Mis-
takes have been made in the past; mistakes will
undoubtedly be made in the future. This is in-
evitable in a relationship as complex and varied
as ours. But on the overwhelming majority of
bilateral issues, we have worked together in a
positive, constructive way. In general, there has
been-and must continue to be-an essential
consistency and stability in our relationship.
Both sides have recognized that lasting impasse
on serious issues cannot be permitted. This
spirit made possible the long but ultimately suc-
cessful quest for satisfactory solutions to the
Chamizal boundary question and the Colorado
River salinity issue, and beneficial cooperation
in fields such as narcotics control and the trans-
fer of prisoners.
We in the United States, because of our vast
size and many varied interests throughout the
world, often fail to appreciate what it means to
be a smaller, economically less developed coun-
try on our border. The history of U.S.-Mexican
relations has been a story of alternating periods

of conflict and friendship. Manifest destiny
meant growth and development for us, but it
worked to the disadvantage of Mexico. Al-
though we have long forgotten our conflicts
with our southern neighbor, Mexicans have not.
They remain sensitive to any indication that we
are taking them for granted or treating them in
a cavalier fashion as, quite frankly, we did at
certain periods in our history. They are acutely
aware, as Mario Ojeda Gomez put it, of the
"asymmetry of power" between the two nations.
Mexico is an independent nation that wili
determine its own future and whose people will
not brook anything they perceive as outside in-
terference in the making of their country's basic
decisions. We respect this deep and proud
feeling and deal with Mexico as a sovereign
equal in the world community, with its own
well-articulated policies.
Mexico, in turn, must understand our needs,
our considered positions, and our political and
social systems. A dynamic, positive relationship
has to be based on mutual interests with neither
side expecting the other to assume all the re-
sponsibility for maintaining the growing
dialogue between us.
President Lopez Portillo was the first Chief of
State to visit the United States after President
Carter's inauguration. Following this visit, we
established in early 1977 a Consultative
Mechanism with Mexico to deal with a panoply
of economic, social, and political matters. There
have been numerous meetings under the aegis
of this Consultative Mechanism, and these
meetings have resulted in the identification of
many issues that require priority and high-level
attention. We have organized a specialized sub-
group that we hope will address in a more com-
prehensive fashion problems unique to the bor-
der, such as urban crowding, environmental is-
sues, smuggling, law enforcement, and com-
peting demands on limited water and other
natural resources.
The interest expressed by both countries
during President Lopez Portillo's visit in early
1977 continues to expand. The announcement
of President Carter's planned visit to Mexico in
February of next year is only the most recent
reaffirmation of this relationship. Indeed, to-

day's conference, initiated at a local level and
sponsored by the Department of State, reflects
the deep and continuing desire in the United
States to improve our relations with Mexico.

Undocumented Aliens
It is fair to say that the bilateral issue of most
pressing concern to the United States is that of
migration. Mexico, at the present time, is the
source of some 60 percent of the un-
documented aliens living in this country. In ad-
dition, a growing number of citizens of other
nations illegally enter the United States through
Mexico. Therefore, it is understandable that
Mexico has been a prime focus in discussing
migration issues. Having said that, I should
emphasize that the percentage of un-
documented aliens coming from countries other
than Mexico-for example, Central and South
America, the Caribbean, and parts of the Far
East and Middle East-has been increasing.
The migration issue is a difficult one involv-
ing legal, economic, humanitarian, political, and
foreign policy considerations. Everyone agrees
it is a problem that needs to be addressed; no
one has a solution that is both simple and work-
able. The Carter Administration expressed its
policy in August 1977 in the form of proposals
for legislation on undocumented aliens. This
was the first attempt by the Federal Govern-
ment to provide a comprehensive approach to
this troubling issue. It included, among other
provisions, employer sanctions and improved
status for most undocumented workers already
here. The proposal has been the catalyst for a
spirited debate nationwide. Important research
on this issue is being done by both American
and Mexican scholars. We have begun to trans-
form the discussion from a negative and emo-
tional level to a genuine, constructive attempt to
solve an important problem.
The Congress held several series of hearings
on the President's proposals during this past
session. In October, the Congress passed, and
the President signed, a bill establishing a Select
Commission on Immigration and Refugee Pol-
icy. This Commission will consist of representa-
tives from the Congress, the executive branch,

and the private sector. Among other tasks, the
Commission will study the effect of the provi-
sions of the Immigration and Nationality Act on
social, economic, and political conditions in the
United States, on demographic trends, on pres-
ent and projected unemployment in the United
States, and on the conduct of foreign policy. In
addition, the Commission will conduct a com-
prehensive review of the provisions of the Im-
migration and Nationality Act and make ap-
propriate recommendations for change. The
Commission report is due by September 30,
Thus, with the formation of this new Com-
mission to deal with the problems of un-
documented workers and illegal immigration, as
well as other related issues, the debate has been
joined at the highest levels of our government.
We have recognized that a serious issue exists in
the United States and are beginning a system-
atic effort to examine and to solve it in the
broadest possible context.
At times, the debate over undocumented
aliens has been highly emotional. This is under-
standable when one considers the far-reaching
economic and social issues involved. Neverthe-
less, we must have a dispassionate analysis of
this problem if we are to formulate a sound na-
tional policy. Much has been written about un-
documented immigration into the United
States, but hard data is surprisingly scarce. I be-
lieve that President Carter's 1977 proposals and
creation of the Select Commission are en-
couraging beginnings for a rational debate on
the issue and the development of realistic policy
As a nation we must reflect on what immi-
gration has meant to this country in the past
and what effects various types of immigration
can have on the future nature of our society.
We shall discuss this issue responsibly here at
home and engage in a serious dialogue with
Mexico and with the many other nations con-
We do not plan to close America's borders or
to become a police state. We will never move
backward to a discriminatory policy directed at
specific ethnic groups. These groups-and I
speak not only about Hispanic groups-have

given our nation a unique and rich culture and
a dynamism unknown elsewhere. Given this
overall American philosophy, we must go on to
develop a sensible, and legally and morally ac-
ceptable, system for managing the new migra-
tion before it reaches proportions that exceed a
level that this country can absorb.
In considering the migration issue, we should
keep in mind that there is a difference between
the undocumented Mexican migrant and the
illegal immigrant from other countries. Some
estimates are that half or more of the un-
documented Mexican migrants who cross the
border remain for less than six months before
returning home. The average Mexican migrant
may well enter and leave the United States on a
number of occasions. This is in sharp contrast
to illegal immigrants from other countries, most
of whom are "visa abusers" and generally come
to stay. Thus, Mexican migration, because it is
heavily seasonal, seems to be different from that
of other source countries. (I should add, how-
ever, that we believe this is slowly changing as
an increasing percentage of Mexican migrants
come from urbanized rather than rural areas
and are more likely to remain here.)
I hesitate to use any statistics in this field be-
cause they vary so greatly from study to study.
Nevertheless, numbers are useful, even when
we must deal with wide ranges, in order to help
us appreciate the magnitude of this issue. Esti-
mates of the number of undocumented aliens
currently in the United States range from 4 to 7
million, with the Mexicans in this group esti-
mated at 3 to 6 million. Between 1 and 2 million
aliens cross the border every year without valid
documents and 500,000 to 1-'4 million of these
are estimated to be Mexicans. Between one-half
and two-thirds of this latter number return
home to Mexico each year.
We should look at these estimates in perspec-
tive. Mexican migration is not new. Mexicans
began immigrating to the United States in sig-
nificant numbers in the late 19th century.
Periods of greatest migration have coincided
with times of trouble in Mexico or with boom
years in the United States. Entry into the
United States from Mexico was free until the
late 1920's when we began enforcing controls

along our southern border. Subsequently, of
course, many Mexicans and other Hispanics
continued to enter the United States-both le-
gally and without documents. In fact, out of a
total of some 18 million Hispanic Americans,
over 11 million are immigrants or children of
The causes of this large migration of un-
documented aliens are widely known and
understood. The so-called "push" factors, in-
cluding unemployment and underemployment,
high population growth, and low wages, are
coupled with the "pull" factors from the United
States such as betterjob and wage opportunities
and enhanced access to consumer goods.
In the United States, undocumented workers
are perceived in two quite different ways. One
point of view takes the position that these work-
ers contribute to our well-being by paying in-
come and sales taxes and social security while
not drawing significantly on government serv-
ices; by providing difficult-to-obtain labor for
certain undesirable agricultural and other me-
nial service work; and by accepting low salaries
and thus maintaining the viability of marginal
businesses and helping to reduce inflation. The
undocumented worker, according to this
characterization, is merely following the path of
earlier immigrant groups who, in order to es-
tablish themselves in the United States, were
willing to perform less desirable tasks for lower
wages because their life here is better and the
future is more hopeful than at home.
The other characterization contends that
minimum wage, job security, and labor stand-
ards in general are jeopardized by a heavy in-
flux of people willing to accept jobs not meeting
these standards. The easy availability of such
workers removes the incentive for U.S.
employers to switch to more efficient, less
labor-intensive methods and to make these jobs
more appealing to American workers. The un-
documented aliens, because of their need to
remain hidden from the authorities, contribute
to social stresses and to increased crime-both
as victims and as offenders.
In this analysis, undocumented aliens are be-
lieved to draw on government services more

than they contribute in taxes, especially at the
local level.
To what extent undocumented immigration
is a burden or blessing--or a bit of both-to
American society will be an important issue for
evaluation by the new Select Commission on
In general, we in the United States look at the
migration issue far differently than do the
Mexicans. To most Mexicans, immigration to
the United States is seen as a natural phenome-
non growing out of the evolution of the inter-
national economic system. Mexico not only
stresses the compelling force of the pull factors,
but emphasizes our economy's constant re-
quirement for unskilled low-wage workers. As
the migration of workers within a country from
rural to urban areas naturally accompanies eco-
nomic development, for example, in the ex-
traordinary growth of Mexico City and border
cities like Tijuana, so does migration from a de-
veloping to an advanced industrial country. In
objective terms this migration serves-as it did
in some European countries earlier-to ease the
pressures of rapid population growth, land
scarcity, unemployment/underemployment, and
rural poverty, and thus is a stabilizing factor in
a dynamic Mexican society. A sudden cessation
in this opportunity for movement could have
serious social consequences in Mexico, particu-
larly in Mexican border states.
President Lopez Portillo has stated on several
occasions that Mexico wants to export goods,
not people. Mexico believes that the United
States should further open its markets to Mexi-
can products to help generate new employment
opportunities and cash flow into Mexico. In-
creased export opportunities in U.S. markets
would thereby stimulate Mexico's export sector,
which in turn would provide more jobs for
Mexicans, thus easing some of the "push" pres-
sure. The Mexican Government is aware of the
difficulties it will face in planning its economic
development if it cannot count on stable and
expanding U.S. markets. Our government, in
turn, recognizes the importance of American
markets to the sound development of the Mexi-
can economy.
It is almost a truism that the overriding eco-

nomic task facing Mexico is to create vast num-
bers of jobs in the coming decades, as large
numbers of young Mexicans reach working age.
During the next 10 years an estimated 600,000
to 800,000 aspiring new workers will be enter-
ing the Mexican job market yearly. It is unlikely
that job creation, at present and for the
foreseeable future, can meet the growing de-
mand for jobs. Mexico's demographic profile
indicates that this general trend will continue.
In fact, it has been projected that if current
trends were to remain unchanged Mexico's
population could reach 150 million in the year
2000 and could be double that of the United
States by the year 2050. In fact the rate of
Mexico's population growth is now declining, in
part because of progressive governmental deci-
sions in this area, but the effect of this marginal
decline will only be seen over the long term.
While the longer term trends are favorable, a
much more immediate requirement is that these
new entrants be absorbed to the extent possible
into the Mexican job market in the next two
decades. The border industry program is one
example of a joint U.S.-Mexican effort to pro-
vide jobs for Mexican labor in Mexico and at
the same time to help maintain a considerable
number of U.S. jobs. Firms operating under
this program employ 90,000 Mexicans and pro-
duce nearly one-third of Mexico's industrial ex-
ports. Other cooperative measures are possible,
consistent with our commitment to preserve
and expand employment for U.S. workers.
Meeting Mexico's employment needs will re-
quire emphasis on labor-intensive investment.
Fortunately, future oil revenues can help
Mexico ease the transformation of its economy
and social structure.
We are sensitive both to the Mexican Gov-
ernment's position on undocumented aliens and
to the humanitarian dimensions of the problem.
Mexicans who want to emigrate to the United
States because of the lack of opportunities at
home and those who have already entered this
country and are living in a "shadow" world
while trying to evade American immigration
authorities, are not criminals in the common
sense of that word, and they are not thought of
as such by our government. But we believe that

in view of the interdependence of our two
societies, Mexico must recognize that we in this
country face growing difficulties from the large
numbers of undocumented aliens. In a truly
cooperative relationship the entire burden can-
not be left with the United States simply to ac-
cept and absorb this migration flow. The
dialogue between our two nations must develop
a satisfactory long-term solution to this mutual
Mexico is so close to us geographically that
the interactions between us, whether on the pri-
vate or governmental level, are intense and
continuous. Such a close relationship has the
potential to develop strains. We should not
permit essentially minor events to interfere with
our approach to the broader aspects of the
problem. I was particularly struck by the recent
reactions to the report that the Immigration
and Naturalization Service planned to begin
work on a barrier between El Paso and Juarez
as well as in the San Diego area. Although the
plan was merely to replace and extend for six
miles some of the existing border fencing, the
issue was blown so out of proportion and mis-
interpreted that a totally unnecessary and un-
happy element was thrust into our dealings with
Facile references to a "Berlin Wall" or "Tor-
tilla Curtain" obscure the fact that the legal flow
of people across our southern border is running
at almost 160 million per year and growing
rapidly-a flow nearly twice that across our
border with Canada. We believe-and I think
these figures amply demonstrate -that our
concern for effective border enforcement is
fully compatible with the interest we have long
shared with Mexico in an open border. I fear
that spending too much time debating this type
of transitory issue can only serve to distract us
from the pursuit of real solutions to our more
pressing, vital problems. But it is a lesson to
both nations of how sensitive migration and
border issues can be and how different percep-
tions can be in each country.

Other Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations
I want to emphasize that the dialogue be-

tween the United States and Mexico is not con-
fined solely to the issue of immigration and un-
documented aliens. Let me briefly touch upon
some of the other key elements in the U.S.-
Mexican relationship.
Our relations with Mexico concerning oil
and gas have received considerable media
coverage in recent months. Mexico, with
proven reserves of 20 billion barrels and po-
tential oil reserves estimated at up to 300 bil-
lion barrels, may become one of the world's
major producers of oil and gas. Mexican hy-
drocarbons would mean for the free world a
desirable diversification in energy sources and
would represent a relatively safe and stable
supply. Because of geography, we are Mexico's
natural market, especially for natural gas. In
fact, at present, Mexico sells us 80 percent of
its petroleum exports, although this percentage
is likely to decline as increasing oil exports
enter the world market.
As Mexico develops its petroleum resources,
it hopes to avoid the great economic and politi-
cal disequilibrium that has occurred in other
oil-producing countries when they expanded
this sector of their economy too rapidly.
Mexico believes that all sectors of the economy
must develop at a relatively balanced pace so
that the rest of the economy will be able to ab-
sorb the revenues generated by the sale of oil
and gas. Within this general constraint, Mexico
is moving rapidly to develop its petroleum re-
sources. We agree with the Mexican approach
to energy development which will dampen in-
flation, provide revaluation of the peso, make
nonenergy exports more competitive, and
avoid social dislocation. As I noted earlier,
through the efficient use of its resources and
the use of sound fiscal and pricing policies,
Mexico will be in a position to stimulate
labor-intensive investments with its increasing
oil revenues. Doubtless, energy issues will play
an increasingly important role in the relation-
ship between Mexico and the United States,
both in the public and the private sectors.
The trade area is also an important one for
both nations. The $9 billion annual two-way
trade makes Mexico our fifth largest trading
partner. Last year, the United States purchased

three-fourths of Mexico's manufactured ex-
ports. This volume of trade will probably grow
rapidly as Mexico becomes a major oil supplier,
with the customary Mexican trade deficit with
the United States becoming a surplus. In fu-
ture years differences over trade issues are
likely to arise between our two countries, as ac-
cess to U.S. markets for new developing in-
dustries and the expanding agriculture sector
becomes increasingly important to Mexico at
the same time that U.S. sensitivities to rising
competition from Mexican products will be
We cannot hide the fact that there are pro-
tectionist sentiments in the United States
against some Mexican products. However, U.S.
policy remains dedicated to the philosophy of
free trade. The General System of Preferences
(GSP) for developing countries is helpful to
Mexico and the increase in duty-free allow-
ances for tourists from $100 to $300 will be
especially beneficial to Mexico. Although on
certain highly visible products, like winter
vegetables, our nontariff barriers can be an ir-
ritant, it is fair to say that U.S. markets are
generally open to Mexican products and trade
barriers are low.
In Mexico, however, there is strong protec-
tionism for a number of key industries. As
Mexico becomes a major trading nation, it
must accept the reality of obligations along
with benefits in international trade. As noted
earlier, to export goods rather than people,
Mexico needs stability in its trade relations. To
achieve this stability, Mexico should consider
broadening its institutional participation in the
international trading system. Our government
is seeking to solve outstanding trade issues
both in direct discussions with the Mexican
Government and in the broader context of the
Multilateral Trade Negotiations.
Along the border, cooperation is increasing
in the areas of law enforcement, narcotics
control, pollution, control of smuggling, pro-
motion of tourism, and in social and cultural
activities. Border cooperation on the Federal,
State, and local levels will require creative and
sustained efforts in the coming years if we are
to realize the potential of the border region. In

addition to greater cooperative efforts on the
border and elsewhere, we signed a treaty last
year on the exchange of prisoners that is serv-
ing as a model for such treaties elsewhere. We
also signed a new extradition treaty as well as a
basic agreement on cooperation between our
two environmental protection agencies.
More generally, we have been involved in a
dialogue with Mexico on regional, hemi-
spheric, and international questions. Over the
past decade, Mexico has become a significant
participant on the world scene. Secretary of
State Vance and Foreign Secretary Roel meet
frequently to consult on a whole range of is-
sues, as do officials at other levels. One of the
most significant contributions Mexico has
made on the hemispheric scene has been in the
area of disarmament and arms control for both
nuclear and conventional weapons. Mexico has
taken several initiatives that we have en-
thusiastically supported. We have worked
closely with the Mexican Government to offer
our assistance to assure the success of these
initiatives in regional arms restraint.
From this relatively brief survey, it is obvious
that there is an overall vitality in our relation-
ship with Mexico. It is a growing relationship, a
dynamic one. This is true because we are
dealing with two societies that are themselves
growing and changing constantly. As Mexico
begins to enter the ranks of the industrialized
countries, it will be more necessary than ever
before that we understand each other better in
order to cooperate closely, work together,
avoid conflicting courses, and make adjust-
ments when necessary.
In pursuing a general framework of cooper-
ation we particularly must recognize and re-
spect the independence and foreign policy
autonomy of Mexico. We must also recognize
that the growing interdependence of our two
societies makes certain special demands for
flexibility and understanding. It may be inevi-
table that both the United States and Mexico
will have to adjust some basic attitudes so that
we may prosper together. While neither coun-
try should interfere with the other's internal
processes, the reality is that our destinies are
interlinked in multiple ways. What were once

. I

purely domestic decisions made in isolation
from external forces will have to be seen in
their full complexity if we are to take advan-
tage of opportunities and avoid inadvertent ir-
An interdependent relationship has costs as
well as benefits. If managed properly, the costs
need not be painful; the benefits may be great.


We are certain that wise policies can lighten the
burden for those adversely affected while the
large majority of citizens on both sides of the
border gain significantly. For the necessary
cooperation to occur, both we and Mexico must
face up to the reality of what interdependence
really means.

STA-501 .M

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