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Former U.S. Ambassador To Mexico Speaks Frankly To Inland Empire Audience


The Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico visited San Bernardino on Monday, June 25th for a talk on the future of NAFTA, and the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper has more.

Earl Anthony Wayne is a career diplomat, who served as Ambassador to Argentina under President Bush and Ambassador to Mexico under President Obama. Since retiring from the State Department, Ambassador Wayne has been involved in a number of advising roles, at institutions like the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Atlantic Council.

Speaking with KVCR reporter Benjamin Purper before an event with the World Affairs Council of Inland Southern California, Wayne gave his perspective on U.S.-Mexico relations, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and human rights. 

The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Purper: Your presentation to the World Affairs Council is on the importance of relations between the U.S. and Mexico. What’s so unique about this particular relationship?

Wayne: This relationship that we have with Mexico is in many ways the most important relationship the United States has. It touches the daily lives of more U.S. citizens than any other relationship in the world. It's a combination of heritage, of trade, of cultural connections, of the networks that have been built, especially in the economy over the past twenty-five years. So, we have a lot at stake.

People don't realize at times how much of what they make or do depends on trading with Mexico. They're the second largest buyer of American goods in the world. Canada's the first largest. So our two neighbors buy more from us than anybody else. And they need to pay closer attention, it seems to me, and they need to let their representatives know that this is an important relationship, and we believe that it should be preserved and improved, but not discarded. 

Purper: How does immigration factor into this relationship?

Wayne: I think it's important to realize that Americans in general have a much more positive view of immigration than you would imagine by listening to the press. Gallup recently did a poll, they found that 75 percent of Americans think immigration is a good thing. And that includes even 65 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. It's only 39 percent who say immigration should be kept at the same level. And then only 28 percent say it should be increased. So there's divisions there, but in general the principle that immigration is good for America is widely shared.

What we haven't done is been able to get our legislators and our administrative branch to get a consensus on a modern immigration reform. And that's what we really need. There are a lot of passions, we have to get by those passions, and we just have to look at the facts and the figures and what would be good for America. What do we do need? What's the value that we could have? And that might mean we have a point system for immigration that, if you have certain skills or certain training, you'll get a higher rating to come in.

It might also mean that we have this temporary plan where you come for 6 months or 3 months and then you go back home. Canada, for example, has that kind of an arrangement with Mexico, and it seems to work very well. People seem to respect it, and they come back year after year. My impression, from when I was ambassador in Mexico, was that a lot of the Mexicans in the United States would love to be able to go back and forth and live a good part of the year in Mexico.

Their reason for going, they say when you talk to them when they came back, was, “We wanted to earn money for our families, but we didn't want to live in the United States forever.” My impression was, I came back thinking that there's a space for this kind of system that helps businesses in the United States, farmers in the United States, that helps Mexicans actually, and that we all can come out winners, if we can craft such a program going forward. 

Purper: So they would be residents without necessarily being citizens?

Wayne: No, in this case, you wouldn't get citizenship. But you'd be able to come up for a working season and go back afterwards. Now then, there would be other immigrants who would come to stay, but you could have different criteria for those immigrants as to what the needs were in the economy. And so you'd have a different selection process than what we currently have for that kind of immigration. 

Purper: I wanted to ask about human rights. A lot of people consider separating immigrant families at the southern border a massive human rights violation. Do you think it damages our credibility to enforce or promote human rights abroad, especially in Latin America, and the Northern Triangle specifically?

Wayne: Well, let me say that over the years that one of the challenging things I had to do as a diplomat was to go in and tell people they weren't respecting the human rights of their own citizens. Especially if they can point back to the United States and say, “Well what about this example of what you're doing? And this example?” So, I think in general what I would say is it makes it harder for us to stand up for human rights if we are being widely criticized in the world for not respecting the rights of others.

Where we've most been able to make a lot of progress with people is where they've come to clearly see that either they're going to lose benefits by not changing their practices, or that it can be a gain for them to change their practices and move forward. And it's never easy to do this, let me add, because what you really need to bring about lasting changes, there has to be a coalition of people in that country that want to change these practices. And they need to press for changing human rights practices, or fighting corruption, it's the same thing. You need that strong domestic base.

But if you have that, then you can help create a situation where you're aiding that positive movement. And so, when you have situations where we're being widely criticized, it just makes it harder to do, as a diplomat, out there trying to do the right thing.