E.g., 09/23/2023
E.g., 09/23/2023
Obstacles and Opportunities for Regional Cooperation: The U.S.-Mexico Case

Migrant-sending and migrant-receiving countries rarely collaborate on migration issues because the structure of global migration systems ensures they often disagree about core policy issues. These disagreements stem from at least four obstacles: state sovereignty defines migration as a domestic issue, sending and receiving countries have inherently conflicting interests, net migration flows are predominantly one-directional, and complex domestic politics make international negotiations challenging. However, migration collaboration makes sense when states share common goals that they cannot achieve on their own and when the broader strategic context favors cooperation.

The history of the U.S.-Mexican relationship dates back to the 1890s, and offers examples of cooperative approaches. These include collaboration efforts during World War II and the Korean War to ensure adequate guestworker flows from Mexico to the United States, and the current continuing work to promote orderly enforcement at the U.S.-Mexican border. These cases support the idea that, while difficult, successful partnerships tend to emerge incrementally, by building on existing programs and working through standing institutional forums.

Cooperative approaches are worthy of policymakers’ consideration on four key migration policy issues: border management, regulation of labor brokers, credentialing and implementation of migrant selection criteria, and job creation in communities of origin (co-development).

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Migration Policy and Migrant-Sending Countries

III. Barriers to Migration Cooperation

A. Sovereignty

B. Divergent Preferences

C. Asymmetric Flows

D. Complexity of Migration Policy

IV. The U.S.-Mexico Case

A. Ambivalent Preferences and Unilateral Enforcement: 1890s through World War II

B. The Bracero Program: 1942-64

C. Unilateralism and the Emergence of the Contemporary U.S.-Mexico Migration System: 1965-96

D. Beyond the ‘Policy of No Policy’: 1990s-2001

E. The Post-9/11 Period

V. Lessons from the U.S.-Mexico Case

VI. Conclusion