Texas’ relationship with Mexico is more challenging now than it has been in years. Anti-immigration rhetoric has grown increasingly coarse, and Texas has National Guard troops along the border. Politically, the relationship often resembles a marriage on the rocks.
There is too much at stake for Texas and Mexico to go their separate ways. But words matter, and warning signs of fraying are everywhere, noted Dallas Morning News reporters Alfredo Corchado and Robert T. Garrett in a recent front-page story. The danger is that the more Texas is viewed as unwelcoming, the more the state stands to lose politically and economically. Gov. Greg Abbott and new Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler should do as much as they can to dial back the tension.
These aren’t just the impressions of this newspaper. They’re being echoed on both sides of the border. While the economic relationship remains strong, José Octavio Tripp, the Mexican consul general in Dallas, says that “politically, it’s becoming more distant every day.” State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, references anti-immigrant sentiment that chased Mexican investment out of California in the 1990s and warns that it could happen in Texas, too.
Sheer economic reality should be enough to temper unproductive actions and rhetoric. More than 67 percent of all cross-border truck traffic and 86 percent of rail traffic cross somewhere along the Lone Star State’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico. Overall, Texas does more trade with Mexico than any other U.S. state; in 2013, it posted merchandise exports of $100.9 billion to Mexico. At least 400,000 Texans owe their jobs to trade with Mexico, and recent reforms in Mexico’s energy policies are a potential economic bonus for Texas energy investment.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, now in its 21st year, and personal outreach from George W. Bush as governor and as president have been instrumental in expanding ties, finding places to cooperate instead of chide. Even as Congress struggled with immigration issues, Bush always spoke positively of Texas’ relationship with Mexico. Former Gov. Rick Perry did the same during most of his tenure, before giving in to political pressure and deploying troops along the border.
Texas cannot afford to lose its unique relationship with Mexico, despite frustrations from border security to violent drug cartels. There are still many stories of cross-border success: Texas health officials work on infectious disease issues along the border. The North American Development Bank, a joint operation of the U.S. and Mexican governments, provides financing for wastewater treatment, clean energy and other environmental projects on both sides of the border.
Texas can’t afford to let border politics get in the way of our social and economic well being. Let’s not learn the hard way.