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The Disappearance of Borders: Mexico/USA

The fence and the river are at once real obstacles and powerful symbols of a struggle between those who want to keep two nations apart and those who live their lives in circuits of family and friendship that loop back and forth between the United States and Mexico as if there were no border.

The issues surrounding the relations between the United States and Mexico involve every aspect of Globalization. We can only touch on a few points in this module. For further reference you may wish to examine the excellent web site prepared by Indiana University: Rethinking History and the Nation State: Mexico and the United States

In this module, you will become familiar with

  1. The implications of regions without real national borders
  2. Some basic facts about the Mexican economy
  3. Some basic facts about the Mexican immigrant and illegal alien population in the U.S.
  4. Some of the attitudes immigrants and illegal aliens may have about residence in the U.S.
  5. The basic facts of California's proposition 187

Background: Understanding the Implications of "Borderless" Regions

As you know, one element in the definition of Globalization is that it involves the movement of people across national borders. This not only has important political consequences, but cultural and economic consequences as well. We have included this module under Political Aspects of Globalization, but the issues clearly spill over into every aspect of the debate about Globalization.

In our treatment of Comparative Advantage, we assumed that workers cannot migrate freely between England and Portugal. If workers can freely migrate, then the theory will need to be reinterpreted because one of its main assumptions will no longer apply. It may not be the case, for example, that workers in Portugal (to use our example, above) would be better off switching to an industry in which they have a comparative advantage. It may be that they are better off moving to England. In Ricardo's world, the free movement of workers from one country to another would be virtually impossible. In today's world, it is a reality that is changing economic, political, and cultural landscapes worldwide.

We have chosen the case of the Mexico-USA region, but the same considerations apply to all areas of the world where borders are beginning to disappear. Many countries in Europe, for example, also have large populations of recent immigrants and illegal aliens.

Perhaps the single most important result of this global phenomenon will be the way we understand the political reality of nations. Globalization has brought drastic changes to the way we view national borders, national identities, and national narratives. As David Thelen writes:

These changes challenge history to its core. Two centuries ago the modern practice of history began to focus history’s basic concern with change and continuity around narratives about the fate of nations, to try to persuade people to interpret their lives in nation-centered terms. (

Needless to say, Globalization has caused many people around the world to cease interpreting their lives in nation-centered terms. In other words, they are replacing the nation-centered narrative with a new narrative, in which national status becomes more ambiguous. (Note: The challenge to nation-centered narratives also has cultural implications. It is a factor in creating Global Consciousness. See module on Cultural Aspects of Globalization in this course.)


The following readings will give you some fundamental facts and some perspectives that relate to the disappearing border between Mexico and the United States. There are, of course, other facts that may be described as "fundamental" and other perspectives that could be defended. The point of these readings is that you will become familiar with the kinds of issues in the debates over disappearing borders. Questions follow to reenforce your reading.

Briefly explore the CIA World Fact Book entry on Mexico ( Click on "Economy" and make a note of the important points related to Globalization.

Read the U.S. government estimate of the number of undocumented aliens living the in the U.S. as of 2000 at . Note in particular the percentage from Mexico.

Read the first paragraph of the Introduction to Fostering Identities by Gutierrerz ( Read the Conclusion to this article.

Read the brief paragraph describing proposition 187 on the Turning Points link of the University of Indiana site (

The diagram below is from a study done by the World Bank in 2003 on Worker's Remittances -- money sent home by legal and illegal aliens to their home countries. As you can see, this represents a considerable source of capital for home countries. You will use this diagram in the exercise. See

Read the following is an excerpt from the 2003 World Bank report on the global effects of Worker's Remittances on developing countries. [Emphases added]

Facilitating international labor mobility is an
even more crucial — and controversial — means
of increasing remittance flows to developing
countries. Greater international migration
could generate substantial benefits to the world
economy. Developed countries remain wary of
relaxing immigration policies, however, as it is
feared that immigration would increase competition
in local job markets and pose a fiscal burden
on local tax payers. Developed countries
also fear that large scale immigration may erode
cultural values and undermine national security.
Developing countries worry about a “brain
drain” even though any output losses from emigration
of skilled workers may be more than
offset by remittances and positive network
effects on trade and investment. ...

As a share of GDP and other key economic
indicators, remittances are significantly higher in
low-income countries than in other developing
countries. In 2001, remittances to low-income
countries were 1.9 percent of GDP and 6.2 percent
of imports...



1. How many residents in the United States identify themselves as of Mexican origin?

2. Gutierrerz thinks that people of Mexican descent in the United States should
a. forget their past origins and focus on the future
b. take on a disaporic identity that fosters self-esteem based on their ethnic identity
c. take on a pan-ethnic identity

3. Gutierrerz thinks the ultimate aim of the Mexican government with regard to its present and former citizens now living in the U.S. should be to stop the acculturation of Mexican Americans into the American mainstream
a. true
b. false

4. Gutierrerz believes that it is in the interest of each nation to make their emigrant populations be more loyal to their homeland than to the country where they decide to live, work, and raise their family.
a. true
b. false

5. As of 2000, the INS reported that there were approximately 7 million unauthorized aliens in the U.S. and Mexico was the source of about ____ percent of this total.
a. 39%
b. 49%
c. 59%
d. 69%

6. To stimulate its economy, Mexico has made free trade agreements in addition to NAFTA. Mexico has agreements with other countries in its region and some European countries as well.
a. true
b. false

7. In the case of Mexico, GDP per capita is a good indicator of its income distribution.
a. true
b. false

8. In 1994, Californians voted to deny illegal immigrants access to public education and health care.
a. true
b. false

9. If your prospects in your native country were bleak and you could earn enough to survive plus send money back home to your family by working illegally in another country (with very low risk of any serious penalty) you would probably do it.
a. true
b. false

10. Which is NOT a concern of countries that allow illegal aliens?
a. brain drain
b. erosion of cultural values
c. national security
d. burden on taxpayers

11. Californians were right to oppose free public services to illegal aliens.
a. true
b. false

12. According to the World Bank, increased migration of peoples across borders, both legal and illegal is, overall, a good thing.
a. true
b. false

1. Approximately 19 Million.
2. b
3. b
4. b
5. d
6. a
7. b
8. a

9. It depends on you. Additionally, in the case of Mexico/USA, one can argue that working "illegally" really has no meaning. Laws that everyone ignores are not laws. So the moral question of violating the "law" recedes into the background and the imperative of helping your family takes first place.

10. a

11. Probably a. The issue had nothing to do with racism, as some claim. Californian's are right ask for a consistent public policy. Much depends upon whether or not illegal aliens in California are already paying their fair share of state and federal income taxes.

12. a

Additional Resources:

A site dedicated to supporting more moderate levels of immigration to the United States:

Why police in L.A. and other cities cannot arrest illegal aliens; the costs of illegal immigration:

Created on ... April 13, 2004. Revised 23:09 10/11/2005