Across the Border, Authors Speak

Whether driven by careers, economic opportunity or following artistic pursuits, many Mexicans and Americans move across their shared border. This is true of authors David Lida and Álvaro Enrigue, who have created lives on the other side.

Lida, from New York City, first travelled as a tourist to Mexico and has lived in Mexico City since 1990, working as a journalist and author. He is also a mitigation specialist for Latin Americans facing capital punishment in the U.S.

Enrigue, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, pursued his graduate studies in the United States in 1998. He lives in New York City, where he teaches at Columbia University and dedicates himself to his books.

Both Lida and Enrigue are internationally acclaimed for their works. They have lived and worked on both sides of the border, and they share similar concerns about the anti-immigration rhetoric of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the future of the two linked economies.

“I think the big issues go beyond the elections,” says Lida. “Even in the best of cases, if Hillary Clinton wins, just looking at what the past three or four presidents have done, or not done to create an immigration policy, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that she’s going to do better.”

Enrigue says he is worried about the future, whether it is a Donald Trump or a Clinton presidency. With Trump in power, however, the threats take on a different dimension.

“What is new is that it is possible that the anti-Mexican rhetoric takes someone to the White House,” says Enrigue. “But I think it’s just political blah, blah, blah. I’m not packing. I will of course have my passport ready, always ready, and always working.”

The anti-Mexican card

While announcing his presidential bid on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump took this opportunity to make his anti-immigration policy known.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems,” said the Republican candidate speaking to a crowd at Trump Tower. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”

Enrigue was one of the people Mexico sent.

In his book Hypothermia, he writes about the experiences of immigrants from different walks of life trying to negotiate their lives in the U.S. Outside of his book, Enrigue said Mexicans generally integrate well in the U.S. as both countries exhibit cultures of hard work that often translates into property ownership.

“To play the anti-Mexican card is always an easy tool for low politicians with anti-system discourses. Just go back to the campaign of Ross Perot, of Pat Buchanan,” says Enrigue. “I think that the Americans know that hating the neighbor is not a political program, but a political tool. You get a certain amount of attention if you play the Mexican card.”

In his work as a mitigation specialist, Lida has witnessed similar anti-Mexican remarks while travelling in small towns across the United States and reading local newspapers. He said the anti-immigration sentiment has always existed, but it now has a national platform with Trump as a candidate.

“There’s a chapter in my book in One Life where I wrote a news report based on the crime that’s supposed to have happened, and then the reader’s comments. I pretty much took those reader’s comments from real life,” said Lida. “White people in a lot of communities feel that Mexicans are a lesser form of humanity, if they are humanity at all. At least to judge their comments.”

A wall on immigration

To cheering crowds chanting “USA, USA,” Trump has told supporters that he intends to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. back to their native countries.

Both Lida and Enrigue voiced that this is not practical, nor economically viable for Mexico or the U.S. The U.S. economy widely depends on undocumented and exploited Mexican labor.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports that over 12 billion dollars of federal taxes were paid by undocumented immigrants. Some industries, like agriculture, are dominated by undocumented labor. The Department of Labor reports that over half (53 percent) of U.S. agricultural workers are undocumented.

“People have examined the practical aspects of what a plan like that would be, and it’s just not going to happen,” says Lida. “I think these towns [in the U.S.] would be at a standstill, and I don’t know how Mexico would accommodate all those people coming back. But yeah, it’s a fantasy. It’s Donald Trump’s fantasy and it’s not going to happen.”

Trump has also said he wants to expand the wall built by President Bill Clinton between the two countries, but insists that Mexico should pay for it.

The wildly unpopular Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose approval rating stands at less than 25 percent, invited Trump for a state visit on August 31 to discuss bilateral relations and speak to an audience of Mexicans. While both Trump and President Peña Nieto said they discussed expanding the existing wall separating both countries, they did not talk about who will pay for it. Trump estimates it would cost between 10 and 12 billion dollars.

“It was a scandal. I think that is the lowest political point in the last 20 years in Mexican politics,” says Enrigue on Trump’s visit. “Most people were absolutely shocked that Peña Nieto invited him after all the things that he said. The second shock came when Peña Nieto did not use the opportunity to scold that man in public and say ‘who the hell are you to say those things about us?’ And to say right to his face ‘we will not pay for the wall. You’re crazy.”

According to Lida, Trump piñatas are now hot on the Mexican market. 

The cruelest deporter

President Barack Obama has deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in U.S. history. Between 2009 and 2015 more than 2.5 million people were expelled from the U.S. The Nation reports that 25 percent of all deportees are separated from their children residing in the U.S. This does not take into account others who are separated from their spouses and other family members.

“Obama is by far the cruelest and most soulless deporter of human beings in history. The amount of people he has deported is shameful,” says Enrigue. “The amount of families he has broken. It’s just unbelievable. And Hillary Clinton could represent more or less the same.”

For her immigration policy, Clinton has stressed that her priority is to keep families together and close private detention centers. She also says that she will stand by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which are executive actions authorized by President Obama.

Dismantling NAFTA?

The Mexican peso currency has been down nine percent this year. Changes within the past year have shown that the better Trump’s approval rating is, the worse the peso stands.

One of the reasons may be that Republican candidate has threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Enrigue is skeptical about NAFTA as a whole, and believes it was a poorly planned trade policy.

“The border between Mexico and the United States, and the United States and Canada, everything can move. Absolutely everything,” says Enrigue. “Whatever merchandise, money, whatever –except people. The fact that a TV has more rights than a person, it’s ridiculous. That is one problem of NAFTA, and I think it is a problem in Mexico, as much as the United States.”

The U.S. is Mexico’s top trading partner, and since NAFTA’s passing, companies such as Boeing, Ford, and Samsung have set up shop in Mexico to increase their production at a lower cost.

“My view of NAFTA is ambivalent, because although it has created new jobs, most of them are not good jobs and they are low paying,” says Lida. “It’s pretty much unfathomable that any president would dismantle NAFTA. But Trump is appealing, or trying to appeal to certain workers in the U.S. who have lost their jobs due to trade deals.”

In her campaign, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has praised her husband’s passage of NAFTA in 1994, but recognizes its’ shortcomings.

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