With rigorous economic research and practical policy solutions, we focus on the issues and institutions that are critical to global development. Explore our core themes and topics to learn more about our work.
In timely and incisive analysis, our experts parse the latest development news and devise practical solutions to new and emerging challenges. Our events convene the top thinkers and doers in global development.
Shared Border, Shared Future: A Blueprint for Regulating US-Mexico Labor Mobility
What is the challenge?
The last bilateral cooperation to regulate flows between the United States and Mexico ended in 1964. Since then, unauthorized migration has dramatically increased. Of Mexican-born individuals who arrived in the United States after 1990, 80 percent did not have legal authorization at the time they arrived.
The black market for labor has brought harm on both sides of the border. For the United States, which hosts approximately five million Mexican workers without legal status, the black market can reduce wages and erode working conditions for all workers in many sectors of the economy, because unauthorized workers receive little protection from labor laws and thus tend to bid down wages and working conditions. This reduces income tax revenue, hinders law enforcement, and raises the cost of healthcare—as people without legal status often recur to emergency rooms—among other harms. Unauthorized migrants from Mexico who overcome greater barriers to enter the United States remain there longer. For this reason, even well-intended surges of enforcement effort can perversely increase the stock of migrants in the United States who entered unlawfully, as well as funneling greater smuggling revenue to organized criminals,[i] increasing document fraud, and raising deaths at the border. The black market furthermore represents an important threat to the security of the United States, since it thrives on secrecy and anonymity for massive numbers of people entering and leaving the country.
For Mexico, the black market has brought frequent abuse and exploitation of its citizens, created large income streams for violent organized criminals, contributed to corruption of local officials, and tarnished the country’s global image. Most horribly, it has brought death: from 1998 to 2014, US Customs and Border Protection collected an average of 372 bodies each year in the Desert Southwest. Over time, the black market has eroded support for cooperation between two neighbors that need each other. The Shared Border, Shared Future working group sees the black market for labor, and its consequences, as a result of policy failures and a lack of bilateral cooperation. Thus, this working group was convened to assess a reasonable and rationale blueprint for a path forward for both countries.
What is a possible solution?
The Shared Border, Shared Future working group explored ways in which the two governments could achieve this bilateral cooperation objective with an agreement that addresses fee systems, visa portability, incentives for worker training, return, and integration, and more. The resulting report and model ‘term sheet’ provide an overview of what a bilateral agreement, regulating temporary and employment-based migration, could look like. To guide this work, the group operated under five principles about the shared future and shared responsibility of both countries:
Temporary mobility between Mexican and US territory is older than either country, and requires regulations tailored to that shared history and destiny.
Labor mobility between the two countries can bring shared economic benefits
Most recent labor mobility has been unlawful, which has harmed workers and national security in both countries.
Despite the rising importance of other countries, cross-border flows of Mexican labor will continue.
History teaches that flexible regulation and bilateral cooperation are the only lasting solution, but the flaws of past agreements show that proper design is a necessary ingredient.
How did the group operate?
The Center for Global Development (CGD) convened this working group from May 2015 – September 2016. Conceived by CGD Senior Fellow Michael Clemens, the working group was created to address a 50-year lapse in bilateral cooperation. The last cooperation on labor migration between the United States in Mexico ended in 1965, and since then unlawful migration from Mexico to the United States has dramatically increased. To help address this challenge, CGD brought together experts with a diverse array of expertise in business, economics, law, labor, policy, national security, and more. Together, the working group charted a rational, rigorous, and reasonable blueprint that could benefit both countries and their citizens.
The group held two plenary meetings, one at CGD in Washington, DC on May 13, 2015, and a second in Mexico City on October 9, 2015. In addition, the working group convened a US subgroup and Mexico subgroup. Each held individual meetings prior to the October Mexico City meeting to discuss issues of specific importance to each country’s leaders, laws, regulations, etc. The CGD Secretariat complemented these meetings through individual consultations with influential thought leaders in the fields of immigration and bilateral cooperation. These combined efforts have resulted in this working group report, and we are extremely grateful for the time and commitment of all involved.
Members were invited to participate in a strictly personal and volunteer capacity, not as representatives of their employers or organizations. The co-chairs and members have endorsed the report, though not all necessary agree with every statement and recommendation.
Who were the group members?
Working Group Co-Chairs
Carlos Gutierrez, Albright Stonebridge Group, and Ernesto Zedillo, Yale University
Working Group Members
Edward Alden, Council on Foreign Relations
Daniel Chiquiar, Bank of Mexico
Luís Ernesto Derbez, University of the Americas, Puebla
Gerardo Esquivel, The College of Mexico
Tony Fratto, Hamilton Place Strategies
Katie Hays, Caterpillar Inc.
Tamar Jacoby, ImmigrationWorks USA
Lynnette Jacquez, C. J. Lake LLC
Eliseo Medina, Service Employees International Union
Doris Meissner, Migration Policy Institute
Gustavo Mohar, Groupo Atalaya
Alejandro Poiré, Tecnológico de Monterrey
Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort
Silvestre Reyes, former chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Arturo Sarukhan, CMM
Joel Trachtman, The Fletcher School at Tufts University
Rebeca Vargas, US-Mexico Foundation
Michael Clemens, Center for Global Development and IZA Institute for the Study of Labor
Hannah Postel, Center for Global Development
Cynthia Rathinasamy, Center for Global Development
[i] Gathmann, “Effects of Enforcement on Illegal Markets.”
From the article:
“It is a difficult political lift, but we’ve tried other ways for half a century,” said Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development, the chief writer of the “Blueprint.” Barring legal immigrant workers will not protect American workers. But it will ensure that illegal immigration persists.
Read the full article here.
How can we create an immigration policy that works? That's the subject of a new CGD report called "Shared Border, Shared Future." Former Mexican president and CGD working group co-chair Ernesto Zedillo joins this week's podcast to discuss the need for a cooperative solutions to unlawful migration.
Today we launch a detailed proposal for a new era of collaboration between the United States and Mexico: bilateral regulation of temporary, lawful labor mobility across the border. I join with a diverse, five-star group of experts from both countries—chaired by Ernesto Zedillo, the former president of Mexico and Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush (as featured in the New York Times)—to say that it is time for a new vision of the shared future at our shared border. We offer specific ways to get there.
From the article:
Estados Unidos y México comparten una rica historia. Durante más de un siglo, la gente ha ido y venido a través de la frontera para trabajar. Su trabajo arduo y dedicación podrían haber tenido lugar dentro de un mercado laboral bien regulado y ventajoso para ambos países. Sin embargo, en años recientes la mayor parte de la mano de obra se ha movido en un vasto mercado negro, afectando a los trabajadores, las familias, la seguridad y las finanzas públicas en ambos países.
Read the full article here.
From the article:
The United States and Mexico have a rich, shared history. For more than a century, people have moved back and forth at the border to work. Their toil and industry could have taken place within a well-regulated and mutually beneficial labor market. But in recent years much of their labor has occurred in a vast black market — harming workers, families, security and public finances in both countries.
Read the full article here.
Mexico and the United States have lacked a bilateral agreement to regulate cross-border labor mobility since 1965. Since that time, unlawful migration from Mexico to the US has exploded. To address this challenge, CGD assembled a group of leaders from both countries and with diverse political affiliations—from backgrounds in national security, labor unions, law, economics, business, and diplomacy—to recommend how to move forward. The result is a new blueprint for a bilateral agreement that is designed to end unlawful migration, promote the interests of US and Mexican workers, and uphold the rule of law.
The U.S. economy has long relied on immigrant workers, many of them unauthorized, yet estimates of the inflow of unauthorized workers and the determinants of that inflow are hard to come by. This paper provides estimates of the number of newly arriving unauthorized workers from Mexico, the principal source of unauthorized immigrants to the United States, and examines how the inflow is related to U.S. and Mexico economic conditions. Our estimates suggest that annual inflows of unauthorized workers averaged about 170,000 during 1996-2014 but were much higher before the economic downturn that began in 2007. Labor market conditions in the U.S. and Mexico play key roles in this migrant flow. The models estimated here predict that annual unauthorized inflows from Mexico will be about 100,000 in the future if recent economic conditions persist, and higher if the U.S. economy booms or the Mexican economy weakens.