North American Integration Back on the Front Burner‏‏

In the last year, the bilateral process has been the primary means used to advance North American integration, which has drawn little attention. With the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) seemingly stalled after being exposed and discredited, the U.S. channelled trilateral negotiations to parallel bilateral discussions with both Canada and Mexico. Recent reports of a tentative Canada-U.S. security and trade agreement has once again highlighted the whole process of deep continental integration. The U.S. is formulating a strategy with the aim of implementing a North American security perimeter.

NAFTA has allowed the U.S. to further extend its political and economic influence over the continent. Through the SPP, it has evolved to include more security issues. Based on the war on drugs and the war on terrorism, the U.S. is developing a North American security strategy with the goal being to push out its security perimeter. The Merida Initiative conceived in 2007 and launched the following year by the Bush administration, signalled a new era of U.S.-Mexico security collaboration. The plan has provided Mexico with millions in funding for law enforcement, military equipment and surveillance technology. Under the pretext of combating illegal drug-trafficking and fighting transnational organized crime, the U.S. has been able to exert more authority over Mexican security policies.

President Obama has continued and expanded the Merida Initiative. The U.S. and Mexico have further broadened and deepened their cooperation. A U.S. State Department fact sheet entitled United States-Mexico Security Partnership: Progress and Impact proclaimed how both, “governments have built on the foundations of the Merida Initiative to establish four strategic areas to guide our cooperation and institutionalize our partnership: disrupt organized criminal groups; strengthen institutions; create a 21 st century border; and build strong and resilient communities.” A New Border Vision for the 21st century is, “based on the principles of joint border management, co-responsibility for cross-border crime, and shared commitment to the efficient flow of legal commerce and travel.” A U.S.-Mexico declaration issued in May, further highlights key goals in strengthening border security. In order to better coordinate the implementation of joint initiatives, the Twenty-First Century Border Bilateral Executive Steering Committee (ESC) was also established.

On December 15, the ESC’s inaugural meeting was held where a Bilateral Action Plan was adopted. This included initiatives in areas of bi-national infrastructure coordination, risk management, pre-clearance, pre-screening and pre-inspection, along with greater law enforcement cooperation. The ESC also announced other cross-border and pilot projects. They agreed to expand trusted traveler and shipper programs in order to facilitate the flow of people and goods between the two countries. The specific goals that were laid out set in motion a bilateral agenda for the next year. They represent a move towards a common perimeter approach to border management and security, which could later require harmonization of immigration and customs standards.

It is unclear whether the Obama administration will attempt to overhaul immigration laws in the coming year. The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010 S. 3982 was introduced in September, but never came to a vote in the last Congress. In SEC 121. Annual Report on Improving North American Security Information Exchange, it refers to, “developing and implementing an immigration security strategy for North America that utilizes a common security perimeter by enhancing technical assistance for programs and systems to support advance automated reporting and risk targeting of international passengers.” Previous failed security and immigration bills have also contained similar language pertaining to a shared security perimeter around the continent.

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