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This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The historic agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico liberalized trade, phased out tariffs and ultimately created the world’s largest free-trade zone.
Buoyed by these developments—and the international supply chains which they created—the continent has experienced a manufacturing boom over the past twenty years. Not surprisingly, NAFTA countries combined for an annual economic output of approximately $17 trillion in 2012, larger than that of the entire European Union.
However, for all its successes, NAFTA largely ignored one critical issue: immigration.
In today’s global knowledge-based economy, human capital is a critical component needed for economic competitiveness. With more than 450 million residents, North America enjoys a large and diverse labor force, but outdated immigration policies hamstring the continent from fully capitalizing on the potential of its human assets.
This problem is particularly pronounced when it comes to the United States and Mexico. To successfully compete with other major world economies, these two countries need compatible immigration systems to foster mutual cooperation and facilitate the easy movement of workers to areas where they are needed most.
Unfortunately the current immigration system between these countries—characterized by millions of unauthorized immigrants, expensive and often ineffective border security, and the inability for many residents of either country to work in the other—falls far short of this ideal.
In a recent Bush Institute paper, “The United States and Mexico: Immigration Reform for Stronger Economic Growth,” I address some of the major issues: the role of Mexican immigrants in the United States, the problems with current immigration policies, and the major reforms needed to leverage immigration and labor mobility for economic growth across the continent.
Here on the blog we’ll be featuring some of the more interesting data and key findings from that report. This issue could hardly be more important. Not only are the lives of immigrants and the success of businesses on both sides of the border at stake, but also the economic competitiveness of North America as a whole in an increasingly competitive world economy. Stay tuned.
Matthew Denhart is an expert on immigration policy and is the author of the Bush Institute’s America's Advantage: A Handbook of Vital Immigration and Economic Growth Statistics, now in its third edition. He currently serves as executive director of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation and is a founder of the Coolidge Scholars Program which provides full-ride merit scholarships to America's most promising college students. A summa cum laude graduate of Ohio University, Denhart has written and spoken widely on a variety of policy topics including the economics of higher education, labor, and taxes. He has contributed articles to numerous national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, CNN Opinion, and Bloomberg View.Full Bio
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