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Mexico developing border initiatives, says New Mexico State University professor

Mexico is taking the first steps toward developing a new set of policy initiatives affecting its northern border, including its first integrated policy on migration, said Jose Z. Garcia, a New Mexico State University associate professor of government.


director of New Mexico State's Center for Latin American Studies, attended a meeting of 38 Mexican and United States scholars in Tijuana, Mexico, Dec. 17, called by the Colegio de la Frontera (COLEF), a Tijuana-based think tank. He and a professor from San Diego State University were the only two U.S. scholars at the meeting, he said.

Under a contract with Ernesto Ruffo, Mexican President Vicente Fox's new border liaison, COLEF is holding meetings with different Mexican interest groups as part of the process of developing new initiatives on border issues, Garcia said.

COLEF will hold a second meeting in Monterey, Mexico, in January. This time those attending will be officials from government and non-government agencies and industry, he added.

Following these, and possibly other, meetings, COLEF will write a report that will be used by the Fox government as the basis for policy initiatives. The initiatives will guide cabinet secretaries in planning border policies, Garcia said.

The issues discussed Dec. 17 included migration; population, health and education; economic and urban development; water and natural resources; labor; public security; and policy making in a border environment, he said.

"Among the group's conclusions was that there is no integrated policy on migration in Mexico, but that there should be," Garcia said. The group felt Mexican consuls in the United States should develop a more unified policy on how to deal with migrants and that there should be more coordination between Mexican federal, state, local government and non-government agencies on the issue, he said.

He said the group also discussed the lack of crime prevention at the municipal level along the border and discussed what the scholars believe is a coming demographic crisis for Mexico.

"While it's generally perceived that Mexico has a young population, their surveys show that birthrates on the border are actually falling. Enrollment in primary schools is falling and the median age of the population is beginning to go up. At the same time, Mexican scholars say the global recession has led to a drop in maquiladora employment, although not yet a drop of crisis proportions," Garcia said.

"They also see a brain drain along the border, with skilled workers, such as nurses, unable to find competitive salaries and leaving to find employment in the United States. This suggests there is a growing need for a comprehensive approach to job training," he added.

Garcia was one of 11 scholars from the Paso del Norte (Las Cruces-El Paso-Juarez) area invited to attend the conference by Victor Espinoza, a COLEF vice president. He said his role was to discuss conceptual issues of policy making along the border.

"For some time, I have argued that what we need along the U.S. - Mexico border is region building," he said. "In other words, we shouldn't think about water as a New Mexico issue, or a Texas issue, or a Juarez issue, but as a Paso del Norte issue. At the same time, I argued at the meeting that we shouldn't approach policy making along the border in some homogeneous way, because each border area -- Las Cruces-El Paso-Juarez or San Diego-Tijuana -- is a micro-region with its own economic and political considerations," he said.

"I also argued that Mexico and the United States need to take into account how their decisions on border issues affect the other side. That sounds obvious and easy, but it's something that isn't being done," he said.

Garcia said he has been participating in an ongoing seminar on border issues conducted by COLEF for Mexican scholars and officials in the Paso del Norte region. The last session was held Nov. 28 at the group's headquarters in Juarez, Mexico, and dealt with concepts of governability and civil society on the U.S.-Mexican border. The next session is set for Jan. 25 in Juarez. It will address the concept of region building, he said.