President Donald Trump’s effort to build a wall on the United States-Mexico border is not just about the wall, a former Obama staffer said at a University event on Tuesday.
Factors like trade and immigration, and the wall’s effect on the economy, should all be carefully examined before such a drastic step is taken.
Alan D. Bersin, the former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, described Mexico as a vital partner to the United States, as part of the “Security, immigration, trade & the border: Will constructing a ‘Big a$$ wall’ solve America’s issue with Mexico?” on Tuesday.
The talk was the fifth and final part of the summer discussion series on U.S.-Mexico relations organized by the Dole Institute of Politics.
One of President Trump’s campaign promises was to build a wall along U.S.-Mexico border, aiming to keep criminals and drugs from entering the United States. This has been met with opposition from Congress, which has refused to finance the endeavor.
Bersin, who served as assistant secretary and chief diplomatic officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, said that the United States has developed an “integrated production platform” with Mexico.
“We've go to understand that we’re linked with Mexico now in ways that our children and our grandchildren will benefit from,” he said during the event.
Mexico is one of the main countries the U.S. exports to, and as Bersin explained, this relationship is linked to the United States' economic future. He highlighted that it was farmers in the Midwest who asked the current administration not to scrap the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as originally proposed by now-President Donald Trump during the election campaign. Trump, instead, is in the process of renegotiating the agreement.
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On immigration, Bersin remarked that the number of people crossing the United States-Mexican border illegally is the lowest it’s been in four decades.
“Controlling that territory, sealing it, it’s not doable,” he said. “The border has never been totally controllable at any point because of the nature of the terrain, because of the nature of the socio-economics that are there.”
He said the majority of people entering the U.S. through the Mexico border, both legally and illegally, are coming from Central America, not Mexico.
“This idea that it’s a Mexico problem is actually not the case,” he said.
Bersin also highlighted throughout the talk the importance of having Mexico and Canada as U.S. partners.
Christina Luhn, Dole fellow and organizer of the summer discussion series, said, after the talk, she hopes attendees have a better understanding on the importance of border relations with Mexico.
“You don’t change people’s mind in one or five conversations, my goal is always been to get people to think about it in a different way, to kind of understand why sitting here in Kansas, we should care about the border,” she said after the event.
Echoing Bersin’s idea, Luhn highlighted the importance of Mexico in Kansas’ economy, not only through exports, but also with immigration. She said the state is shrinking in population size, going from five congressional seats when she got started into politics and now at four.
“There are communities in western Kansas that rely on this immigrant labor,” she said.
During the opening of her namesake lecture series, Elizabeth Dole spoke at the Dole Institute of Politics on Sunday afternoon, discussing her experience as a woman in a position of leadership, and the challenges that she faced.
After the talk, Erik Scott, assistant professor at the Department of History, said Bersin brought an interesting perspective as someone who has worked on the border for decades on issues touched on.
“He made a strong case for the need to work with Mexico and Canada on border security and on these broader issues such as security, immigration, and cooperation,” Scott said.
But he was surprised, above all, by Bersin’s optimism about the current political climate, even though Scott is quick to point out that he might not share that optimism.
“I admire his optimism that the current moment, the current political impasse in this country could be an opportunity for us to rethink these issues and do a better job at addressing them,” he said.