U.S.-Mexico Border:

Issues and Challenges Confronting the United States and Mexico

NSIAD-99-190: Published: Jul 1, 1999. Publicly Released: Jul 1, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the U.S.-Mexican border region's progress in addressing border issues, focusing on: (1) the nature of major border issues; and (2) U.S. and Mexican efforts underway to address them.

GAO noted that: (1) the United States has pursued a strategy of developing closer relations with Mexico, in recognition that a stable, democratic, and prosperous Mexico is fundamental to U.S. interests; (2) the border region, defined as the area 100 kilometers deep on either side of the almost 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexican border, is the bridge that binds the two countries; (3) thus, the border is critical to U.S. objectives; (4) however, the U.S. border region has relatively high unemployment and poverty levels and faces a number of development challenges; (5) while growing integration has increased trade between Mexico and the United States, it has also exacerbated some long-standing border problems; (6) at the same time, many U.S. efforts to interdict illicit drugs and illegal immigration take place on the border; (7) as a result, there is a confluence of seemingly competing objectives at the border that have important implications for the United States; (8) the major issues on the border include: (a) drug enforcement; (b) illegal immigration; (c) cross-border transportation; (d) environmental infrastructure and public health; and (e) economic development; (9) these problems are being addressed by a number of Mexican and U.S. federal, state, and local agencies that are responsible for specific aspects of each problem; (10) in light of the transnational nature of the problems, various binational institutions, programs, and initiatives have also been created; (11) while such binational mechanisms have been able to make some improvements in certain areas, they have not been able to close the gap between what is needed and what exists; (12) the limits on progress may in part be due to the differing levels of development and dissimilar governmental structures of the two countries; and (13) in recognition of the special economic development needs of the U.S. border community, the President on May 25, 1999, announced the Southwest Border Economic Development Initiative, which is designed to coordinate federal and local economic development efforts to raise the living standards and overall economic profile of the border region on a sustained basis.

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