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US election: Should expats consider voting from a Mexican perspective?

There wasn’t a band playing “The World Turned Upside Down” (Yorktown 1781) but such musical accompaniment wouldn’t have seemed out of place Tuesday night as the outcomes of the New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primaries became clear.  

The decisive victories for non-establishment candidates Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump simply confirmed the fact that large numbers of Americans on both sides of the ideological divide are looking for a new breed of leader, one unburdened by political baggage who unambiguously puts Americans first, rather than vested or outside interests.

But those supporters of Sanders and Trump living in Mexico who were cheering at their television screens on Tuesday might take pause to consider what a presidency under their favored candidate would mean for the country where they have decided to make a home. 

Both candidates are fiercely committed to keeping jobs in the United States. Sanders has vigorously opposed all trade deals over the past three decades, including NAFTA, believing they only benefit economic elites and not working people.  He has promised to revise the 22-year-old treaty between the United States, Mexico and Canada should he win the presidency.  While such a move might be welcomed on the streets of Detroit, it would almost certainly hold back U.S. investment in Mexico and potentially cost many jobs south of the border.  Sanders himself has said that NAFTA led to the loss of some 700,000 U.S. jobs.  If that’s true, the flip side is that there are 700,000 Mexicans now in work because of the trade treaty.  While they may be earning a fraction of their American counterparts, they are managing to feed their families and not contribute to the northward migration thrust.  

Trump’s unprocessed rhetoric on trade treaties may differ from Sanders’ more erudite pronouncements but the message is much the same.  Trump has also vowed to revisit NAFTA, and will probably try to nix the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) to which Mexico is also a co-signatory.  He hasn’t said how he will make U.S. companies not outsource to Mexico, but seems to have a strong belief in his powers of persuasion.  What he may be overlooking is that most CEOs of U.S. corporations are just as hard-nosed as himself and will make up their own minds about how to run their businesses. (Last fall, Trump boasted that his constant criticism of Ford had persuaded the automaker to halt plans for a US$2.5 billion factory in Mexico. However, the Wall  Street Journal confirmed this week that the Mexican plant will go ahead.)

Americans in the United States may not care whether standards of living are being raised in Mexico because of the new job opportunities provided  by outsourcing and sustained direct investment, but is it right for U.S. expats in Mexico to take the same view? Perhaps we would be better off not listening to Trump or Sanders, and paying more attention to the views of economic experts who say that relocations and outsourcing can be of mutual benefit. Some argue that far from “losing” jobs to Mexico, the outsourcing of business from the United States is actually a characteristic of a dynamic and maturing economy.


While Sanders decried Trump’s comments about Mexican migrants being “rapists” and “criminals” as “outrageous,” he has a long history of fighting efforts to reform immigration laws on the grounds that immigrants hurt the economy and depress American workers’ wages.  Sanders has said he would like to see a “rational immigration process” but does not favor guest worker programs that are so hated by the labor unions.  On the other hand, he voted for the Dream Act to legalize immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.  

If “President” Trump managed to achieve (or even attempted to put into practice) his stated goal of deporting 11 million illegal immigrants – the bulk of them Mexicans – within two years, the consequences for both Mexico and the United States could be catastrophic.

Not only would it cost the United States between US$400 and 600 billion to carry out the deportations, according to some estimates, but removing all undocumented immigrants would cause the labor force to shrink by 6.4 percent. Some studies show that in 20 years’ time, the U.S. economy would be nearly US$1.6 trillion smaller than had the immigrants been allowed to stay.

Millions of Mexicans returning home to a country offering little chance of work could cause massive social unrest here.  With U.S. law enforcers hunting down illegal immigrants and rounding them up, bilateral relations could plunge to their darkest ever depths.  The Mexican government’s friendly attitude toward American citizens living here could change dramatically.  

Potential Trump voters living south of the border should be very careful what they wish for.

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