Opinion

How America and Mexico can work together to drive out fentanyl and fix the border crisis

The US-Mexico relationship is failing. It’s been failing for some time, and its failure is persistent and pervasive.

It’s driven by a lack of vision and leadership on both sides of the border.

And if left unchecked or uncorrected, this failure will have disastrous consequences for both nations at home and across the world.

In Washington, there’s a tendency to approach Mexican relations through policy silos: trade, immigration, drugs, security, democracy and regional stability.

We’ve tried to deal with immigration and narco-trafficking without tackling regional security or regional economic dysfunction.

And we’ve allowed identity politics to keep us from working on self-evident problems.

It is not racist to fix an under-resourced and failing border and immigration system — but it is racist to accept the status quo or demonize its victims in America and Mexico.

While we’ve focused on conflicts in Europe and Asia, we’ve failed to lead in our own backyard.

Mexico’s failures have fed growing levels of dysfunction and now populism. Leaders’ rhetoric has become more combative without action or practical solutions.


Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he can sway US elections.
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he can sway US elections.
REUTERS/Paola Garcia/File Photo

Mexico’s president last week implied he could sway American elections and American Latinos.

As mayor of Miami, I can assure you any foreign leader who claims such power is gravely mistaken.

The hard truth is these issues are not separate nor separately fixable — they’re interrelated, interlinked parts of a larger challenge and can only be fixed as an integrated whole.

Instead of approaching the US-Mexico relationship piecemeal, both nations need to link issues of national security with economic security as part of a comprehensive deal that empowers the United States and Mexico, de-powers China and Russia and secures a strong path for shared prosperity.

In short, reversing the US-Mexico relationship’s decline means dealing with everything, everywhere, all at once.

Succeeding with the Mexican president is not guaranteed given his record. But it signals a start for the next president and the next generation across Latin America that wants live free and prosper.

First, we need to link re-shoring our economies to securing our borders.

The United States and Mexico could facilitate the return and realignment of American manufacturing and supply chains from China and near-shore them back in North America.

This could be tied to economic zones in Mexico that would support US supply chains and manufacturing needs.

These zones would help absorb the labor needs and immigration pressures in Mexico and across the region.

They would also add to Mexico’s economic rebound.


Migrants getting taken into custody by Border Patrol near Mount Cristo Rey, New Mexico on March 20, 2023.
Migrants getting taken into custody by Border Patrol near Mount Cristo Rey, New Mexico on March 20, 2023.
James Keivom

In return, the Mexican government would secure and stabilize the US-Mexico border by working to eliminate human trafficking and reversing the explosion in uncontrolled border entries across the region.

Second, we need to link energy independence to shared prosperity.

The United States and Mexico are energy superpowers with rising costs and aging infrastructure.

Both nations should open and integrate their energy sectors to diversify power generation, drive down energy costs and expand access.

This would also make North America less vulnerable to unstable energy markets and provide jobs outside the drug economy.

Securing energy independence for both nations will strengthen the economy and security.


Fentanyl made in China and sold by Mexican cartels have killed thousands of people in Mexico and the United States.
Fentanyl made in China and sold by Mexican cartels have killed thousands of people in Mexico and the United States.
DEA

Third, we need to link stopping fentanyl to stopping cartels and stopping China.

Mexico is the front line in ending the influx of fentanyl from China.

Like the opium trade of the past, fentanyl is manufactured in China and then trafficked through Mexico.

It’s enriched China, empowered the cartels and destabilized Mexico.

It’s also killed thousands of Mexicans and Americans for far too long.

Addressing it means disrupting the supply chain and the support network.

The US-Colombia agreements offer a template that incentivizes Mexico as a full and equal partner in reversing fentanyl transmission while also justifying the use of American assets to reverse the fentanyl influx.

We need to stop accepting failure and those who profit from it.

Both nations have the talent and interests to fix a set of problems that are solvable, self-evident and self-inflicted by both sides.

Neither the United States nor Mexico can afford to see the relationship fail.

The risks are real, but the rewards are great in reversing the decline of a vast strategic relationship. We just need the imagination and the leadership to achieve it.

It’s time for our leaders to act more and talk less.

Francis Suarez is mayor of Miami.

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