REYNOSA, Tamaulipas – The Mexico Institute, centered in the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has issued a new policy brief titled “Charting a New Course: Policy Options for the Next Stage in U.S.-Mexico Relations.”

The 15-page brief, written by Andrew Selee, says it is time for a new migration agenda between the United States and Mexico.

Selee was named executive vice president of the Wilson Center in January 2014. Prior to this position, Selee was the Wilson Center’s vice president for Programs.

Selee was the founding director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute from 2003-12.

Key Recommendations

The key recommendations made by Selee in the policy brief are:

  • Develop policies that address greater complexity in the migration relationship between the United States and Mexico.
  • Ensure a balance between enforcement, which plays a legitimate deterrent effect on unauthorized immigration, and encouraging continued progress on economic gains in Mexico, which is the single most important factor for limiting out-migration from Mexico.
  • Separate out concerns about illegal immigration from those about organized crime and drug trafficking.
  • Continue to focus enforcement efforts on unauthorized immigrants with criminal records, while also continuing to enhance the technological capacities for detection of unauthorized crossings at the border.
  • Increase legal visas for Mexicans to help reduce the flow of unauthorized workers.
  • The Mexican government will need to ensure that greater enforcement takes place in the context of rule of law, with full respect for the rights of immigration detainees in Mexican territory.
  • Develop a common approach to Central America, addressing the underlying conditions of poverty and extreme violence.
  • Develop a coordinated approach to managing migrant and refugee flows from Central America.
  • Ensure expatriate services and consular protections to both U.S. and Mexican citizens living in the other country.


In his introduction, Selee says the migration agenda between the U.S. and Mexico needs to be “radically different” today from what it was 16 years ago.

“Almost sixteen years ago, two recently inaugurated Presidents, George W. Bush and Vicente Fox, met at Fox’s ranch in Guanajuato to discuss matters of state and ended up tracing the broad outlines of a potential agreement on migration. Back then, they were both concerned with the large numbers of Mexicans coming across the border without documents and how to reduce and regularize this flow,” Selee writes.

“Today, the reality could not be more different. The number of Mexicans crossing the border illegally has dropped to a 40-year low, and there are almost certainly more Mexican immigrants leaving the United States than arriving.”

A majority of the immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally are now Central Americans, Selee explains, pointing out that the U.S. and Mexican governments have been working closely to find ways to limit this flow and keep people from making the dangerous journey north.

“And, perhaps most surprisingly, the number of Americans in Mexico has been growing rapidly, reaching somewhere around a million people, almost as large a group of U.S. citizens as live in all of the countries of the European Union combined,” Selee states.


Concluding his policy brief, Selee acknowledges that the public debate in the United States and Mexico will likely be dominated by the issue of Mexican migrants to the United States for the foreseeable future. He says this will happen because of “political sensibilities in both countries.” Although, Selee points out, public polls show immigration declining over time as a source of concern among Americans.

“Even the recent presidential elections polls suggest that 70 percent of Americans would prefer to legalize rather than deport those in the country illegally,” Selee says.

The author says the government-to-government agenda, while continuing to focus on Mexican migration to the United States, will also increasingly have to pay attention to Central American migration through Mexico. He says this will require cooperation between the two neighboring countries, and to the large number of Americans migrating to Mexico.

“Over time, this will create a more nuanced and balanced migration agenda between the two countries, where cooperation is more useful for both countries than conflict, and where interests increasingly converge in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade-and-a-half ago,” Selee states.

“However, this shift will take time to develop, and there may be initial conflicts about migration policies before the two countries realize the need they both have for greater cooperation.”

Selee says the United States and Mexico each have interests in protecting their sovereignty and enforcing their immigration laws. But, he says, they will also need to work together to address Central American immigration, ensure robust growth in Mexico that keeps migration from starting up again, and protecting their own citizens living in the other country.

About the Author

Andrew Selee

In addition to being executive vice president of the Wilson Center, Andrew Selee is an adjunct professor of Government at Johns Hopkins University and of International Affairs at George Washington University and has been a visiting professor at El Colegio de Mexico. He is also co-director of the Regional Migration Study Group, convened by the Migration Policy Institute and the Wilson Center, and was a member of Council on Foreign Relations’ Task Force on Immigration.

Selee is also a long-time volunteer of the YMCA and was a member of the YMCA of the USA’s National Board and International Committee. Prior to joining the Wilson Center as a program associate in the Latin American Program in 2000, he was a professional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives and worked for five years with the YMCA of Baja California in Tijuana, Mexico.

Editor’s Note: Click here to read the “Charting a New Course: Policy Options for the Next Stage in U.S.-Mexico Relations” policy brief in full.