Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations
Updated January 7, 2021
Congressional Research Service

Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Mexico, the 10th most populous country global y, has the 15th largest economy in the world. It is
currently the top U.S. trade partner and a major source of energy for the United States, with
which it shares a nearly 2,000-mile border and strong economic, cultural, and historical ties.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the populist leader of the National Regeneration Movement
(MORENA) party, which he created in 2014, took office for a six-year term in December 2018.
López Obrador is the first Mexican president in over two decades to enjoy majorities in both
chambers of Congress. In addition to combating corruption, he pledged to build infrastructure in
southern Mexico, revive the poor-performing state oil company, address citizen security through
social programs, and adopt a foreign policy based on the principle of nonintervention.
President López Obrador has remained popular (64% approval in December 2020), even as his
government has struggled to address organized crime-related violence, the Coronavirus Disease
2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and a deep recession. After high-profile massacres and record
homicide levels, the López Obrador government has come under pressure to improve its military-
led security strategy. Mexico’s economy recorded zero growth in 2019, and the International
Monetary Fund estimated it would contract 9.0% in 2020. Nevertheless, President López Obrador
has not implemented an economic stimulus plan to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
U.S. Policy
U.S.-Mexico relations have remained general y cordial. Tensions have emerged, however, over
trade policy and tariffs, border security issues, and U.S. arrests of high-level former officials on
drug trafficking and related charges. The Mexican government concluded renegotiations of the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its replacement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada
Agreement (USMCA). It accommodated the Trump Administration’s immigration policy
changes, which shifted the burden of offering asylum to Mexico. After enacting labor reforms, a
USMCA commitment, the López Obrador administration achieved a key foreign policy goal: U.S.
congressional approval of implementing legislation for USMCA. In July 2020, President López
Obrador traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with President Trump to mark the agreement’s
entry into force. Security cooperation could be hindered by Mexico’s recent enactment of
legislation limiting foreign law enforcement operations in Mexico.
Legislative Action
The 116th Congress closely followed the Trump Administration’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA
and recommended modifications to the proposed USMCA (on labor and the environment, among
other topics) that led to signing of an amendment to the agreement. The House approved the
implementing legislation for the proposed USMCA in December 2019; the Senate followed suit
in January 2020 (P.L. 116-113). The FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; P.L.
116-92) required a classified assessment of drug trafficking, human trafficking, and alien
smuggling in Mexico. Congress provided $162.5 mil ion in foreign assistance to Mexico in
FY2019 (P.L. 116-6), $157.9 mil ion in FY2020 (P.L. 116-94), and some $158.9 mil ion in the
FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260). P.L. 116-260 directs the Secretary of
State to enhance economic cooperation and educational and professional exchanges with Mexico
and includes technical modifications to USMCA. The FY2021 NDAA (H.R. 6395) requires a
report on U.S. support to Mexican security forces.
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Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Background.................................................................................................................... 1
López Obrador Administration .......................................................................................... 3
President López Obrador: Priorities and Approach to Governing ....................................... 4
Security Conditions ................................................................................................... 5
Addressing Corruption and Impunity ............................................................................ 7
Human Rights ........................................................................................................... 9
Foreign Policy......................................................................................................... 11
Economic and Social Conditions ..................................................................................... 11
Economic Overview................................................................................................. 11
COVID-19, Low Oil Prices, and an Economic Recession .............................................. 12
Social Conditions .................................................................................................... 13
U.S.-Mexican Relations and Issues for Congress................................................................ 14
Counternarcotics, Security Cooperation, and U.S. Foreign Aid ....................................... 15
Law Enforcement Cooperation and Extraditions ........................................................... 17
Human Rights ......................................................................................................... 18
Migration and Border Issues...................................................................................... 20
Economic and Trade Relations and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.......................... 23
Modernizing the U.S.-Mexican Border .................................................................. 24
U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement .......................................................................... 25
Energy ................................................................................................................... 26
Border Environmental Issues ..................................................................................... 28
International Boundary and Water Commission....................................................... 28
North American Development Bank ...................................................................... 29
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .................................................................. 29

Water Resource Issues .............................................................................................. 30
U.S.-Mexican Health Cooperation.............................................................................. 32
Outlook ....................................................................................................................... 33

Figure 1. Mexico at a Glance ............................................................................................ 2
Figure 2. Composition of the Mexican Congress by Party, as of December 2020 ....................... 3
Figure 3. Estimated Organized Crime-Related Homicides in Mexico....................................... 5
Figure 4. Extraditions from Mexico to the United States: 1999-2020 ..................................... 18
Figure 5. Mexico: Reported Apprehensions from Northern Triangle Countries and
Asylum Applications................................................................................................... 22

Table 1. U.S. Assistance to Mexico: FY2017-FY2021......................................................... 16

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Table A-1. Estimated Mérida Initiative Funding: FY2008-FY2021 ....................................... 34

Appendix. Mérida Initiative Funding................................................................................ 34

Author Information ....................................................................................................... 35

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Congress has maintained interest in Mexico, a neighboring country and top trading partner with
which the United States has a close but complex relationship (see Figure 1). In recent decades,
U.S.-Mexican relations have improved as the countries have become close trade partners and
worked to address crime, migration, and other issues of shared concern. Nevertheless, the history
of U.S. military and diplomatic intervention in Mexico and the asymmetry in the relationship has
continued to provoke periodic tension.1 For example, the U.S. investigation into and October
2020 arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister damaged trust between the two governments.2
Congress remains concerned about the effects of organized-crime-related violence in Mexico on
U.S. security interests and about U.S. citizens’ safety in Mexico, and it has increased oversight of
U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. Congress may continue to appropriate foreign assistance for
Mexico and oversee bilateral efforts to address il egal drug flows, unauthorized migration,
environmental issues, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Implementation
of the United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA) and its labor
commitments, Mexico’s treatment of U.S. energy firms, and border environmental and water
issues may receive oversight attention.
This report provides an overview of political and economic conditions in Mexico, followed by
overviews of selected issues of congressional interest in Mexico: security and foreign aid,
extraditions, human rights, trade, migration, energy, border environmental, water, and health.
Over the past two decades, Mexico has transitioned from a centralized political system dominated
by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which control ed the presidency from 1929-2000,
to a true multiparty democracy.3 Since the 1990s, presidential power has become more balanced
with that of Mexico’s Congress and Supreme Court. Partial y as a result of these new constraints
on executive power, the country’s first two presidents from the conservative National Action
Party (PAN)—Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012)—struggled to enact
some of the reforms designed to address Mexico’s economic and security chal enges.
The Calderón government pursued an aggressive anticrime strategy and increased security
cooperation with the United States. Mexico extradited many drug kingpins, but some 60,000
people died due to organized crime-related violence. Security chal enges overshadowed the
government’s achievements, including its economic stewardship during the global financial crisis,
health care expansion and management of the H1N1 pandemic, and efforts on climate change.
In 2012, the PRI regained control of the presidency 12 years after ceding it to the PAN with a
victory by Enrique Peña Nieto over Andrés Manuel López Obrador, then standing for the leftist
Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). In 2013, Peña Nieto shepherded reforms addressing
energy, education, telecommunications, access to finance, and politics through the legislature by
forming an agreement among the PRI, PAN, and PRD. The energy reform opened Mexico’s
energy sector to private investment and led to foreign companies committing to invest hundreds

1 Peter H. Smith and Andrew Selee, eds., Mexico and the United States: the Politics of Partnership (Boulder, CO:
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013).
2 Vanda Felbab-Brown, “A Dangerous Backtrack on the U.S.-Mexico Security Relationship,” Brookings Institution,
December 21, 2020.
3 Emily Edmonds Poli and David A. Shirk, Contemporary Mexican Politics. 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman &
Littlefield, 2020).
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

of bil ions of dollars in the country. Despite that, Peña Nieto left office with low approval ratings
(20% in November 2018), after presiding over a term that ended with record levels of homicides,
moderate economic growth (averaging 2% annual y), and pervasive corruption and impunity.
Figure 1. Mexico at a Glance

Sources: Created by CRS. Trade data from Global Trade Atlas and Ethnicity data from CIA, The World Factbook.
Other data are from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
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López Obrador Administration
On July 1, 2018, Mexican voters gave López Obrador and MORENA a mandate to change the
course of Mexico’s domestic policies. López Obrador and his MORENA coalition dominated
Mexico’s presidential and legislative elections. Original y from the southern state of Tabasco,
López Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City (2000-2005), had run for president in the past
two elections. After his 2012 loss, he left the center-left PRD and established MORENA.
MORENA, a leftist party, ran in coalition with the social y conservative Social Encounter Party
(PES) and the leftist Labor Party (PT). López Obrador won 53.2% of the presidential vote, more
than 30 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Ricardo Anaya, of the PAN/PRD/Citizen’s
Movement (MC) al iance who garnered 22.3% of the vote. López Obrador won in 31 of 32 states,
demonstrating that he had broadened his support from his base in southern Mexico.
In addition to the presidential contest, al 128 seats in the Mexican senate and 500 seats in the
chamber of deputies were up for election. Senators serve for six years, and deputies serve for
three. Beginning this cycle, both senators and deputies wil be eligible to run for reelection for a
maximum of 12 years in office. MORENA’s coalition won solid majorities in the senate and the
chamber which convened on September 1, 2018.
Figure 2. Composition of the Mexican Congress by Party, as of December 2020

Source: Created by CRS. Information from the Mexican chamber of deputies, Mexican senate.
As of December 2020, MORENA controlled 61 of 128 seats in the senate and 252 of 500 seats in
the chamber. The MORENA-led coalition, which is ad hoc but often includes the PT, PES, and
Green Party (PVEM), has a two-thirds majority (needed to make constitutional changes) in the
chamber but not in the senate. The PAN is the second-largest party in each chamber.
On June 6, 2021, Mexico is scheduled to convene legislative elections for 500 seats in the
chamber of deputies as wel as numerous state- and municipal-level elections. With deputies able
to seek reelection for the first time, some 74% of incumbents polled intend to run again.4 The
PRI, PRD, and PAN have formed an opposition al iance that seeks to overturn MORENA’s
majority. Fifteen states are scheduled to elect governors.

4 Ivonne Melgar, “368 Diputados Buscan Repetir; Podrán Reelegirse por su Distrito,” Excelsior, December 23, 2020.
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President López Obrador: Priorities and Approach to Governing
In 2018, López Obrador promised to transform Mexico and govern differently than PRI and PAN
administrations. In addition to combating corruption, he pledged to build infrastructure in
southern Mexico, revive the poor-performing state oil company, address citizen security through
social programs, and adopt a noninterventionist foreign policy. Given fiscal constraints, some
observers questioned whether his goals were attainable. Although some of his advisers endorsed
progressive social policies, López Obrador has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage.5
President López Obrador set high expectations for his government and promised many things to
many different constituencies, some of which conflicted with each other. López Obrador
promised to govern austerely and bolster economic growth, but a lack of public investment hurt
Mexico’s pre-pandemic growth rate and the government’s limited fiscal response to the pandemic
has worsened its economic impact in Mexico, in comparison with other countries.6 Although the
López Obrador government promised to respect existing contracts with energy companies, the
energy ministry has halted new auctions, canceled some contracts, and restricted private
involvement in the renewable energy sector.7 López Obrador worked to secure USMCA to update
and modernize the agreement, assuaging investors concerned about his economic policies.
However, in other policy measures with significant economic implications, he abandoned large
infrastructure projects already underway, including a Mexico City airport project, after voters in
popular referendums rejected them.8 His government increased pensions for the elderly and
increased the minimum wage three times but ended Prospera, Mexico’s largest social program,
which had won international praise for targeting those most in need.9
President López Obrador has proven adept at connecting with his constituents but has struggled to
adjust his priorities, even as Mexico faces a recession and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic
(See “COVID-19, Low Oil Prices, and an Economic Recession,” below). López Obrador has
shaped daily news coverage by convening frequent, early morning press conferences and
traveling throughout the country to attend large, campaign-style ral ies. He reportedly continued
to hold large public events after public health officials warned of the dangers of COVID-19.
López Obrador has shunned media outlets that have questioned his policies and reduced funding
for independent government entities and regulators that could check his presidential power.10 His
administration has cut public sector salaries and ministry budgets, which has led to the
resignations of senior bureaucrats and weakened public institutions, including the public health
system. He remains committed to implementing large infrastructure projects—such as a new oil
refinery and a train through the Yucatán—despite their fiscal unfeasibility and potential negative
impacts on the environment and indigenous communities.11

5 “How Andrés Manuel López Obrador will Remake Mexico-T ropical Messiah,” Economist, June 21, 2018.
6 IMF, Mexico: Article 1V Consultation: Staff Report and Press Release, Country Report 20/293, November 2020.
7 Ibid; Christopher Lenton, “ Using Coronavirus as ‘Excuse,’ Mexico Pushes T hrough Power Rules Said Damaging to
Private Sector,” Natural Gas Intelligence, May 18, 2020.
8 Santiago Pérez, “ Planes, T rains and Beers: Mexican Referendums Give Voters Last Call,” Wall Street Journal, March
9 Stephen Kidd, “T he Demise of Mexico’s Prospera Programme: a T ragedy Foretold,” Development Pathways, June 2,
10 Shannon O’Neil, “ Lopez Obrador Is Dismantling Democracy in Mexico,” Bloomberg, March 11, 2019.
11 Oscar Lopez, “A T urn Away from Mexico’s Environment?” US News & World Report, April 22, 2019; Jude
Webber, “Mexico’s Slowdown T hreatens López Obrador’s Infrastructure P lans,” Financial Times, February 5, 2020.
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Security Conditions
From 2015 to 2019, the homicide rate in Mexico surged some 80%, reaching a record 29
homicides per 100,000 people.12 For over a decade, high levels of homicides have been driven, in
part, by increasing organized crime-related violence (see Figure 3).13 In contrast to other
countries, this violence has increased in Mexico even during the COVID-19 pandemic.14
Figure 3. Estimated Organized Crime-Related Homicides in Mexico

Source: Created by CRS. Information from Lantia Consultores, a Mexican security firm.
Femicides (targeted kil ing of women) and disappearances also have increased in recent years.
Mexico recorded more than 1,000 femicides in 2019, a record high. Some predict femicides may
increase in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns, which reportedly have worsened domestic and
interfamilial violence.15 In September 2020, Mexico’s interior ministry announced that more than
77,700 people had been reported missing, most of whom had disappeared since former president

12 In 2015, data from Mexico cited by the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recorded a homicide rate of 16.5
per 100,000. In February 2020 congressional testimony, a U. S. official estimated that Mexico recorded a homicide rate
of 29 per 100,000 in 2019. T estimony of U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law
Enforcement Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Richard Glenn, in U.S. Congress, House Foreign Affairs
Committee, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and T rade, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., February
13, 2020. Hereinafter Glenn testimony, February 2020.
13 Infighting among criminal groups has intensified since the rise of the Jalisco New Generation, or CJNG, cartel. T he
January 2017 extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán prompted succession battles within the Sinaloa Cartel and
emboldened the CJNG and other groups to challenge Sinaloa’s dominance. See CRS Report R41576, Mexico:
Organized Crim e and Drug Trafficking Organizations
, by June S. Beittel; David Shirk et al., Organized Crim e and
Violence in Mexico: 2020 Special Report
, Justice in Mexico, July 2020.
14 International Crisis Group, Virus-Proof Violence: Crime and COVID-19 in Mexico and the Northern Triangle, Latin
America Report No. 83, November 11, 2020.
15 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), “Women’s Protest and Strike Met with Government Indifference,” March 18,
2020; Amaranta Manrique De Lara and María De Jesús Medina Arellano, “ T he COVID-19 Pandemic and Ethics in
Mexico T hrough a Gender Lens,” Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, August 25, 2020.
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Calderón launched a “drug war” in 2006.16 This figure is more than double the roughly 37,000
people reported missing by the Peña Nieto government.17
U.S. drug demand, as wel as bulk cash smuggling and weapons smuggling into Mexico from the
United States, have fueled drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico for over a decade. Recent
violence may be attributable to competition for the production and trafficking of synthetic
opioids.18 Journalists and mayors have experienced particularly high victimization rates, which
has prompted concern about freedom of the press and criminal control over parts of Mexican
territory.19 At least nine journalists were kil ed in 2020, and a former governor was kil ed in
December.20 In November 2019, drug traffickers kil ed nine women and children from an
extended family of dual U.S.-Mexican citizens in Sonora, prompting significant U.S. concern.21
President López Obrador has rejected cal s for a “war” on transnational criminal organizations.
Instead, his administration’s security strategy includes a focus on addressing the socioeconomic
drivers of violent crime and other novel policies.22 The administration launched a program that
provides scholarships to youth to attend university or complete internships; however, the
program’s effects on youth employability and crime prevention are not being evaluated.23 The
congress enacted an “amnesty law” that al ows certain individuals, including those serving
sentences under four years, to be released from prison.24 The senate passed legislation to
decriminalize marijuana production and distribution to comply with a Mexican Supreme Court
ruling; it is before the chamber.25
At the same time, President López Obrador’s abandoned a key campaign promise by expanding,
rather than limiting, the military’s role in public security and using military forces to perform a
broad array of other tasks.26 In 2019, López Obrador backed constitutional reforms that created a
National Guard, and in May 2020 he signed a decree to al ow military involvement in public
security to continue for five more years, under civilian supervision.27 Mexico’s National Guard

16 Maritza Pérez, “Segob Reporta 77,171 Personas Desaparecidas en México al Corte de Septiembre de 2020,” El
Econom ista
, October 7, 2020.
17 Mary Beth Sheridan, “More than 60,000 Mexicans have Disappeared Amid Drug war, Officials say,” Washington
, January 6, 2020.
18 Steve Dudley, “T he End of the Big Cartels: Why T here Won’t be Another El Chapo,” Foreign Affairs, February 27,
2019; Eimhin O’Reilly, “Fentanyl T rade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico,” InSight Crime, March 2, 2020.
19 David Shirk et al., Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report, Justice in Mexico, April 2019.
20 David Agren, “Mexican Photojournalist Killed after T aking Photos of Bodies Along a Road,” Guardian, December
11, 2020; Oscar Lopez, “An Ex-Governor Is Gunned Down, Punctuating a Deadly Year for Mexico,” New York Times,
December 18, 2020.
21 Lizbeth Diaz, “Nine Americans Killed in Mexican Ambush, T rump Urges Joint war on Drug Cartels,” Reuters,
November 5, 2019.
22 Vanda Felbab-Brown, AMLO’s Security Policy: Creative Ideas, Tough Reality, Brookings Institution, March 2019.
23 Manu Ureste, “Jóvenes Construyendo el Futúro: Nadie Verifica que Becarios Salgan Capacitados, Dice Coneval,”
Anim al Político, July 7, 2020.
24 With prisons facing outbreaks of COVID-19, this law has taken on added significance. Vanda Felbab-Brown,
Mexico’s Prisons, COVID-19, and the Amnesty Law, Brookings Institution, May 22, 2020.
25 Juan Montes, “Mexico Set to Become World’s Largest Legal Cannabis Market,” Wall Street Journal, December 29,
26 Mary Beth Sheridan, “As Mexico’s Security Deteriorates, the Power of the Military Grows,” Washington Post,
December 17, 2020; Catalina Pérez Correa, “ AMLO’s Broken Campaign Promise: Demilitarizing Mexico,” Am ericas
, December 9, 2020. T hose tasks include constructing infrastructure, conducting airport and highway
surveillance, implementing health policy (including vaccine distribution), and administering social programs.
27 T hose reforms contradict a 2018 Mexico Supreme Court ruling that prolonged military involvement in public
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(composed mostly of military police units of the army and navy, as wel as former federal police)
has been tasked with reasserting territorial control in high-crime areas, border and immigration
enforcement, crime prevention, and communications interception. 28 Because Mexico’s National
Guard lacks investigatory authority, evidence it gathers is inadmissible in court; critics therefore
have faulted the López Obrador administration for dismantling the U.S.-trained federal police and
not adequately investing in the state and local police forces that investigate most crimes.29
Many observers have criticized the López Obrador administration’s security strategy since a spate
of massacres occurred in late 2019. After the high-profile failure of an army-led operation to
arrest Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s son in October 2019, the administration reportedly
redeployed an elite navy unit that had previously tracked and arrested high-level kingpins, often
based on U.S. intel igence.30 Although the government resumed efforts to arrest and extradite
high-level kingpins to the United States in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed progress
on that front and recent tensions in relations could hinder efforts. (see “Law Enforcement
Cooperation and Extraditions”).
Addressing Corruption and Impunity
Corruption is an issue at al levels of government in Mexico and among al political parties. At
least 20 former governors (many from former president Peña Nieto’s PRI party) are under
investigation for corruption.31 In December 2019, Genaro García Luna, who served as public
security minister during the PAN administration of President Calderón, was arrested in the United
States on charges of accepting mil ions in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel.32 In October 2020, the
U.S. arrest of former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos (2012-2018) on drug and money-
laundering charges surprised and angered the Mexican government. Responding to Mexican
pressure, the United States agreed in November to drop the case and al ow Cienfuegos to return
to Mexico.33 Although voters backed López Obrador for his perceived wil ingness to tackle
corruption, his reliance on the military may complicate efforts to prosecute Cienfuegos in
Mexico.34 His government has requested Garcia Luna’s extradition to Mexico.35
President López Obrador has taken steps to combat corruption, but he has not invested in the
institutions necessary to effectively detect and address corrupt offenses. López Obrador’s efforts
to eliminate unnecessary government expenditures, including his decisions to cut his salary and
fly commercial, and his announcements returning seized assets to the public coffers have won

security violated the Mexican Constitution. Maureen Meyer.
28 Iñigo Guevara, Mexico’s National Guard: When Police are not Enough, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute,
January 2020. “ Vigila Guardia Nacional 84 Hospitales de IMSS,” Reform a, April 15, 2020.
29 Mary Speck, Great Expectations, Grim Realities, Center for Strategic & International Studies, May 2019.
30 José de Córdoba and Sadie Gurman, “Mexico, Under U.S. Pressure, Adds Muscle to Fight Against Drug Cartels,”
Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2020.
31 For background on the status of those cases, see CRS Report R41576, Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug
Trafficking Organizations
, by June S. Beittel.
32 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), “Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Arrested for Drug-T rafficking
Conspiracy and Making False Statements,” December 10, 2019.
33 DOJ, “ Joint Statement by Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr and Fiscalía General of Mexico
Alejandro Gertz Manero,” November 17, 2020.
34 “Mexico: ‘El Padrino’ Case Marks Unprecedented T est for Security Cooperation with U.S.,” Latin News Security &
Strategic Review
, December 2020.
35 “Mexico Asks U.S. to Extradite Its Former Security Minister,” Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2020.
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praise from some citizens. Others have dismissed them as merely symbolic actions.36 Some
observers worry cuts in public sector salaries have made officials more susceptible to bribes.
López Obrador’s backing of constitutional reforms that added corruption to the list of grave
crimes for which judges must require pre-trial detention also proved divisive. U.N. officials and
others expressed concern that the move violates the principle that one is innocent until proven
guilty and could encourage politicians to pressure judges to punish their political rivals.37
Key Institutions for Strengthening the Rule of Law
New Criminal Justice System. By the mid-2000s, most Mexican legal experts had concluded that reforming
Mexico’s corrupt and inefficient criminal justice system was crucial for combating criminality and strengthening the
rule of law. In June 2008, Mexico implemented constitutional reforms mandating that by 2016, trial procedures at
the federal and state levels had to move from a closed-door process based on written arguments presented to a
judge to an adversarial public trial system, with oral arguments and the presumption of innocence. These changes
aimed to make a new criminal justice system that would be more transparent, impartial, and efficient (through the
use of alternative means of dispute settlement). Federal changes fol owed advances made in early adopters of the
new system, including states such as Chihuahua.
Under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico technical y met the June 2016 deadline for adopting the new
system, with states that received technical assistance from the United States showing, on average, better results
than others. Nevertheless, problems in implementation occurred and public opinion turned against the system, as
judges released criminals due to flawed police investigations or weak cases presented by prosecutors. According
to the World Justice Project, the new system has produced better courtroom infrastructure, more capable judges,
and faster case resolution than the old system, but more training for police and prosecutors is needed.
Thus far, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has not dedicated significant resources to strengthening the
justice system. His administration has implemented some reforms, including mandatory pre-trial detention for
more crimes, that contradict the new system’s goals. The López Obrador administration also considered pushing
other policies that would have weakened protections against police and prosecutorial abuses; those changes were
abandoned after a popular backlash.
Building an Independent Prosecutor General’s Office. Analysts who study Mexico’s legal system have long
highlighted the inefficiency of the attorney general’s office (known as the PGR). The PGR struggled with limited
resources, corruption, and a lack of political wil to resolve high-profile cases, including those involving corruption
or human rights abuses. Three attorneys general resigned from 2012 to 2017 , the last over al egations of
corruption. Many civil society groups that pushed for the new criminal justice system also lobbied the Mexican
Congress to create an independent prosecutor’s office. Under 2014 constitutional reforms, Mexico’s senate was
to appoint an independent individual to lead the new prosecutor general’s office for a nine-year term.
President López Obrador downplayed the importance of the new office during his campaign, but Mexico’s
Congress established the office, now known as the Prosecutor General’s Office (FGR), after López Obrador’s
inauguration. In January 2019, Mexico’s senate named Dr. Alejandro Gertz Manero, a close associate and former
security adviser to López Obrador, as prosecutor general. Despite the limited overal budget and institutional
capacity of the newly created FGR office, Gertz Manero has directed prosecutors to focus on emblematic cases.
Stil , critics maintain Gertz Manero’s ties to the president have inhibited his wil ingness to take on difficult cases,
particularly those involving the current administration.
National Anti-corruption System. In July 2016, Mexico’s Congress approved legislation that contained several
proposals put forth by civil society to ful y implement the National Anti-corruption System (NAS) created by a
2015 constitutional reform. The legislation gave the NAS investigative and prosecutorial p owers and a civilian
board of directors; increased administrative and criminal penalties for corruption; and required three declarations
(taxes, assets, and conflicts of interest) from public officials and contractors. Under the Peña Nieto government,
federal implementation of the NAS lagged and state-level implementation varied.
In February 2019, Prosecutor General Gertz Manero named a special anti-corruption prosecutor, who received a
significant budget for 2020 and 2021 amid generalized budget cuts for the institution. Cases involving corruption in
the social development ministry and corrupt payments from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to the
head of Petróleos de México (Pemex) during the Peña Nieto administration are moving forward. However, some 500

36 “AMLO Uses his Anti-Corruption Drive to Gain Power and Scare Critics,” The Economist, November 30, 2019.
37 U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “ Statement of the UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on her visit to Mexico ,” April 2019. Hereinafter OHCHR, April 2019.
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reports of corruption referred to the FGR by the Ministry of Public Administration in the current administration
have yet to be presented before a judge. Additional y, as of December 2020, the federal government and many
states have not fil ed the positions needed to establish their anti-corruption systems.
Sources: Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira and David Shirk, Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico: 2008-2016 The
Final Countdown to Implementation
, Justice in Mexico, October 2015; Guil ermo Raúl Zepeda Lecuona, “¿Cómo
Vamos en Procuración de Justicia?” Animal Político, July 18, 2018; Joshua Partlow, “Mexico’s Crisis of Justice,”
Washington Post, December 29, 2017; Octavio Rodiguez and David Shirk, “Mexico’s Badly Needed Justice
Reforms are in Peril,” San Diego Union Tribune, August 11, 2017; World Justice Project México, Mexico’s new
Criminal Justice System: Substantial Progress and Persistent Chal enges
, June 2018; María Novoa, “Justice Reform
Puts Mexico at a Dangerous Crossroads,” Americas Quarterly, January 27, 2020; Arturo Ángel, “Omisiones,
Retrasos y Riesgo de Retroceso a dos Años de la ley que Puso en Marcha la FGR,” Animal Político, December
14, 2020; Maureen Meyer and Moses Ngong, Mexico Faces a Test for its Anti-Corruption and Justice Reform
, WOLA, December 2020.
In December 2020, the Mexican Congress passed and President López Obrador signed a law to
limit foreign law enforcement activity in Mexico, including the work of the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA). As drafted, the law would require foreign law enforcement
officials to share any information they gather with designated Mexican federal authorities and
Mexican officials at al levels of government to report any contacts they have with foreign
officials to those same authorities. Drafted in response to the U.S. investigation of General
Cienfuegos, experts fear that the law, if not revised in implementing regulations, could severely
limit the law enforcement cooperation and information-sharing that has proven crucial to
prosecuting anti-corruption and drug trafficking cases in both countries.38
Human Rights
Criminal groups, sometimes in collusion with state actors, have continued to commit serious
human rights violations against civilians in Mexico.39 The vast majority of those abuses have
gone unpunished, whether they were prosecuted in the military or civilian justice systems. Under
Mexico’s new justice system, judges have had to let many defendants go free, even if they may
have been guilty, due to police misconduct in gathering evidence.40 The government continues to
receive criticism for not protecting journalists, human rights defenders, migrants, and others.
For years, human rights groups and the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human
Rights Practices
have chronicled cases of Mexican security officials’ involvement in extrajudicial
kil ings, torture, and “enforced disappearances.”41 The unresolved case of 43 missing students
who disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, in September 2014—which al egedly involved the
local police and federal authorities—galvanized global protests. Experts from the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) disproved much of the attorney general’s investigation,
and in 2018, a federal judge dismissed that investigation as biased. President López Obrador
established a truth commission on Ayotzinapa, and Prosecutor General Gertz Manero created a

38 Earl Anthony Wayne, “A Better way Forward T han Mexico’s New Anti-Crime Legislation,” The Hill, December 21,
39 See U.S. Department of State, 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Mexico, March 2020.
40 World Justice Project, Mexico’s new Criminal Justice System: Substantial Progress and Remaining Challenges, June
41 According to the U.N., enforced disappearances occur when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their
will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized
groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the
Government.” See
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special prosecutor’s office to focus on the case. In March 2020, a federal judge issued arrest
warrants for a former Marine and four government officials for torture and obstruction of justice
related to the case; four of those five individuals have been detained.42
Among the human rights chal enges facing Mexico, President López Obrador has prioritized
enforced disappearances.43 His administration has met regularly with families of the missing,
launched an online portal for reporting missing persons, registered more than 3,600 clandestine
graves, and increased the budget for Mexico’s national search commission. The government has
sought international assistance to identify tens of thousands of bodies that have been exhumed.
Stil , victims’ families doubt those accused of disappearances, including Marines accused of a
series of disappearances that occurred in Tamaulipas in 2018 and have been documented by
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, wil be brought to justice.44
Human rights organizations have urged the López Obrador administration to fully enact the
country’s 2017 law against torture, investigate and punish cases of torture, and take steps to
ensure that state agents do not commit acts of torture. After an April 2019 visit to Mexico, the
U.N. Committee against Torture welcomed the passage of the 2017 law, but stated that torture by
state agents occurred in a “generalized manner” and found torture to be “endemic” in detention
centers.45 The U.N. body also found that fewer than 5% of investigations into torture claims
resulted in convictions. López Obrador has spoken out against torture, but his government has yet
to develop a system to track statistics on torture cases as required by the 2017 law.
Analysts maintain that efforts to protect journalists, human rights defenders, and migrants remain
insufficient and, in some cases, have worsened under López Obrador. Some 137 journalists and
media workers have been kil ed in Mexico since 2000, including 6 in 2020.46 Mexico ranks
among the top 10 countries global y with the highest rates of unsolved journalist murders as a
percentage of population, according to the nongovernmental Committee to Protect Journalists’
Global Impunity Index. López Obrador has been critical of media outlets and reporters who have
questioned his policies; some of those reporters subsequently have been attacked.47
Mexico is also a dangerous country for human rights defenders. In 2019, at least 23 human rights
defenders were kil ed.48 Nevertheless, the López Obrador government has cut the budget for the
already underfunded mechanism intended to protect human rights defenders and journalists and
the budget for prosecutors charged with investigating those crimes.
Migrants in Mexico are vulnerable to abuse by criminal groups and corrupt officials. In June
2019, the López Obrador administration reached a migration agreement with the Trump

42 For additional information, see Maureen Meyer, 6 Years After Ayotzinapa Disappearances, Mexico’s Government
Must Build on its Efforts to Provide Truth and Justice
, WOLA, September 14, 2020.
43 CRS In Focus IF11669, Human Rights Challenges in Mexico: Addressing Enforced Disappearances, by Clare
Ribando Seelke and Rachel L. Martin
44 T he alleged victims include a U.S. citizen. Parker Asmann, “Mexico’s Navy May Accept Alleged Role in 2018
Border Kidnappings,” InSight Crime, July 30, 2020; J. Weston Phippen, “The Kidnapped American T rump Forgot,”
Politico, December 21, 2020.
45 U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “ Committee Against T orture Reviews the Report of
Mexico,” April 26, 2019.
46 Article 19, “Periodistas Asesinados en México,” accessed on December 28, 2020, available at
47 Santiago Pérez, “ Mexico’s Journalists Fear Hostile T urn Under President ,” Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2019.
48 Frontline Defenders, Global Analysis 2019, 2020.
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Administration to avoid U.S. tariffs.49 As part of that agreement, Mexico agreed to step up
immigration enforcement and al ow more U.S.-bound migrants to be returned to Mexico to await
their U.S. immigration proceedings. Migrants’ rights advocates have documented 1,300 cases of
migrants returned to northern Mexico who have been raped, kidnapped, or attacked.50
Foreign Policy
In contrast to his predecessor, President López Obrador general y has maintained that the best
foreign policy is a strong domestic policy and has traveled outside the country only once since
assuming office, to meet with President Trump in Washington, DC, in July 2020. Foreign
Minister Marcelo Ebrard (former mayor of Mexico City) has represented Mexico in global fora
and led a return to Mexico’s historic noninterventionist and independent approach to foreign
policy (the so-cal ed Estrada doctrine). Thus far, the current administration has reversed the
active role Mexico had been playing in seeking to address the crises in Venezuela, established
closer relations with Cuba, and granted temporary asylum to ousted Bolivian President Evo
Despite these changes, Mexico continues to participate in multilateral institutions and support
development in Central America. Mexico garnered a seat on the U.N. Security Council for 2021-
2022. In addition to working within trade fora, such as the Pacific Al iance, Mexico continues to
promote its exports and seek new trade partners.51 The López Obrador administration shares the
view of prior Mexican governments that the best way to stop il egal immigration from the
Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras) is to address the
lack of opportunity and insecurity in that region. It has proposed a $100 mil ion program focused
on promoting sustainable development in the Northern Triangle and signed agreements with the
Trump Administration to bolster investment in the region.52
Economic and Social Conditions
Economic Overview
Beginning in the late 1980s, Mexico transitioned from a closed, state-led economy to an open
market economy that has entered into free trade agreements with at least 46 countries. The
transition accelerated after NAFTA’s entry into force in 1994. Since NAFTA, Mexico has
increasingly become an export-oriented economy, with the value of exports equaling 39% of
Mexico’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, up from 12% of GDP in 1993.53 Mexico
remains a U.S. crude oil supplier, but its top exports to the United States are automobiles and auto
parts, computer equipment, and other manufactured goods, many of which contain a significant
percentage of U.S. value-added content.

49 U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson, “U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration,” June 7, 2019.
50 Human Rights First, Delivered to Danger, December 15, 2020, at
51 CRS Report R43748, The Pacific Alliance: A Trade Integration Initiative in Latin America , by M. Angeles Villarreal
52 “México Destina 100 mdd para Exportar el Plan Sembrando Vida a Centroamérica,” Forbes, June 21, 2019; U.S.
Department of State, “ United States-Mexico Declaration of Principles on Economic Development and Cooperation in
Southern Mexico and Central America,” December 18, 2018; U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson,
“U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration,” June 7, 2019.
53 World Bank, “World Development Indicators,” accessed December 23, 2020.
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Over the past 25 years, Mexico has recorded a somewhat low average economic growth rate of
2.3%. Some factors—such as plentiful natural resources, a relatively young labor force, and
proximity to markets in the United States—may help Mexico’s economic growth prospects. At
the same time, relatively weak institutions, an inefficient tax system, chal enges in the education
sector, and a persistently large informal economy have hindered Mexico’s economic
performance.54 Confusing regulations, corruption, and high levels of insecurity remain barriers to
Despite attempts to diversify its economic ties and build its domestic economy, Mexico remains
heavily dependent on the United States as an export market (roughly 85% of Mexico’s exports in
2019 were U.S.-bound) and as a source of remittances, tourism revenues, and investment.
Remittances, which reached a record $36 bil ion in 2019 according to Mexico’s central bank,
have replaced oil exports as Mexico’s largest source of foreign exchange. Mexico remained the
leading U.S. international travel destination in 2019, despite U.S. travel warnings regarding
violence in some resort areas. The total stock of U.S. foreign direct investment in Mexico stood at
$114.9 bil ion in 2018, a 4.7% increase from 2017.
When President López Obrador took office, he inherited an economy facing chal enges but with
strong fundamentals and an improving investment climate that had helped the country weather
external volatility.56 Although the IMF renewed Mexico’s flexible line of credit in November
2019, it expressed concerns about uncertainty in the administration’s economic policymaking.57
After averaging 3.0% growth since 2010, the Mexican economy contracted by 0.1% in 2019, due
in part to lower public and private investment. Some investors have expressed serious concerns
about López Obrador’s promotion of government intervention in the economy, particularly
support for Pemex (the state oil company), and his wil ingness to cancel major privately funded
infrastructure projects. Uncertainty in policymaking, Pemex’s poor performance, and the
government’s relatively weak fiscal response to COVID-19 reportedly have hurt investment
prospects that could have been bolstered by the USMCA’s entry into force.58 After pushback from
business leaders, MORENA postponed consideration of two initiatives, one that would have
limited outsourcing and another that reportedly threatened the independence of the central bank.59
COVID-19, Low Oil Prices, and an Economic Recession
Mexico’s economy is particularly vulnerable to external volatility because of its strong reliance
on export sectors. In its October 2020 World Economic Outlook, the IMF predicted that Mexico’s
economy would contract by some 9.0% in 2020 due to a combination of the COVID-19
pandemic, low oil prices and demand, and a U.S. recession.60 President López Obrador’s
responses to these phenomenon could worsen their combined impacts. As the peso has plunged,
job losses have mounted, and investment flows have left the country, observers have become

54 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Economic Survey of Mexico, May 2019.
55 U.S. Department of State, 2020 Investment Climate Statements: Mexico, at
investment -climate-statements/mexico/.
56 IMF, Mexico: 2018 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Staff Statement, November 2018.
57 IMF, Mexico: 2019 Article IV Consultation-Press Release; Staff Report; and Staff Statement, November 2019.
58 U.S. Department of State, 2020 Investment Climate Statements: Mexico.
59 Justin Villamil, “Mexico’s AMLO Delays Ban on Outsourcing amid Uproar by Business,” Bloomberg, December 9,
2020; Steven Baria, “Mexico: Regulator Flags Competition Concerns; Central Bank Reform Postponed,” S&P Global
Market Intelligence
, December 18, 2020.
60 World Economic Outlook Database, October 2020,
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increasingly concerned. The government has resisted most economic stimulus measures beyond
increases in social spending and credits for smal - and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
COVID-19.61 On March 30, 2020, Mexican health officials declared a health
emergency due to COVID-19—requiring social distancing, travel restrictions,
and the closure of nonessential businesses—several weeks after other countries
and the U.S.-Mexican border had closed to nonessential travel. President López
Obrador has resisted adopting the recommendations of his own health ministry
(e.g., he did not suspend large ral ies until mid-April or support lockdowns when
cases spiked in December).62 Although Mexico ranks fourth among Latin
American countries in terms of pandemic preparedness,63 budget cuts have
severely reduced public health system personnel, testing availability, and hospital
capacity. As of January 4, 2020, COVID-19 had caused at least 127,200 deaths in
Mexico.64 Mexico launched the first COVID-19 vaccination campaign in Latin
America in December 2020. President López Obrador has credited President
Trump with helping to secure those vaccines.65 (See “U.S.-Mexican Health
ration,” below.)
Low Oil Prices. Amid collapsing global demand and disputes among major oil-
producing countries over how to reduce production, oil prices have fal en
dramatical y. Private companies could have helped Mexico adjust to the changing
business climate (e.g., by building new storage capacity for excess oil), but
President López Obrador has resisted enlisting their support.66
U.S. Recession. As the U.S. economy contracted by some 4.3% in 2020,67
Mexico experienced declines in demand for its exports, foreign direct investment,
and tourism.
Social Conditions
Mexico has long had relatively high poverty rates for its level of economic development (41.6%
in 2018, as compared with 44.4% in 2008), particularly in rural regions in southern Mexico and
among indigenous populations.68 Traditional y, those employed in subsistence agriculture or in
the informal sector tend to be among the poorest citizens. Since the government has not offered
unemployment insurance or food aid during the COVID-19 pandemic, informal-sector workers
have risked exposure to the virus by returning to crowded, unsafe work environments.69 Despite

61 For public health information, see For economic policy responses, see IMF, “Policy
Responses to COVID-19,” at opics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#M.
62 Elisabeth Malkin, “Covid Fatalities Soar in Mexico as President Condemned for Inaction,” The Guardian, December
23, 2020.
63 Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, “Nuclear T hreat Initiative”; and EIU, Global Health Security Index, 2019.
64 Johns Hopkins University, “COVID-19 Dashboard,” accessed January 4, 2020, at
65 AP, “Mexican President Says T rump Helped Him gGet Vaccine,” December 3, 2020.
66 See Mexico in the Age of Low Oil Prices, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, March 30, 2020.
67 IMF, World Economic Outlook Database, October 2020.
68 T his figure is from Mexico’s National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL) and is
available in Spanish at
69 Women have borne the brunt of COVID-related job losses, and many of these jobs have yet to be recovered.
International Labor Organization, Im pact on the Labour Market and Incom e in Latin Am erica and the Caribbean ,
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predictions to the contrary, poor and working class household incomes have been supported by
continued remittances sent from family members abroad. Even amid the pandemic, remittances
sent from the United States to Mexico increased 10% from January to October 2020, as compared
with 2019.70
Mexico also experiences relatively high income inequality. According to the 2019 Global Wealth
published by Credit Suisse, 62.8% of Mexico’s wealth is concentrated in 10% of the
population, although that percentage declined from 66.7% in 2000. Inequality has historical y
been due, in part, to the country’s regressive tax system, oligopolies that dominate particular
industries, a relatively low minimum wage, and a lack of targeting in some social programs.71
Economists have asserted that reducing the untaxed and unregulated informal sector, in which
workers lack job protections and benefits, is crucial for addressing poverty, while also expanding
Mexico’s low tax base. Under the Peña Nieto administration, a financial sector reform aimed to
increase access to credit for SMEs, which employ some 60% of Mexican workers. A fiscal reform
sought to incentivize SMEs’ participation in the formal economy by offering insurance,
retirement savings accounts, and home loans to those that register with the national tax agency.
Significant barriers to formalization remain.72
Although the Peña Nieto administration expanded social safety net programs, corruption within
the social development ministry al egedly siphoned hundreds of mil ions of dollars from those
programs.73 The administration expanded access to federal pensions, started a national anti-
hunger program, and increased funding for the Prospera conditional cash transfer program. In
addition to corruption, some programs, such as the anti-hunger effort, proved ineffective.74
López Obrador’s pledges related to social programs include (1) doubling monthly payments to
the elderly; (2) providing regular financial assistance to a mil ion disabled people; and (3) giving
a monthly payment to 2.3 mil ion youth aged 18-29 to stay in school or complete internships.75
Some of these programs, combined with two minimum wage hikes, have improved people’s
socioeconomic conditions amidst a recession. Irregularities have already been detected, however,
including within the youth scholarship program.76
U.S.-Mexican Relations and Issues for Congress
Mexican-U.S. relations general y have grown closer over the past two decades. Common interests
in encouraging trade flows and energy production, combating il icit flows (of people, weapons,
drugs, and currency), and managing environmental resources have been cultivated over many

September 2020.
70 Juan José Li Ng, “Mexico: Despite the Pandemic, Remittances Continue Unstoppable—T hey Grew 14.1% in
October,” BBVA Research, December 1, 2020.
71 Gerardo Esquivel Hernandez, Concentration of Economic and Political Power, Oxfam Mexico, 2015.
72 Jorge Alvarez and Cian Ruane, Informality and Aggregate Productivity: the Case of Mexico, IMF Country Report,
November 2019.
73 Julia Love and Sharay Angulo, “Mexican Former Minister Detained, Deepening President’s Anti-Graft Quest,”
Reuters, August 13, 2019.
74 CIDAC, op. cit.; Nayeli Roldán, “ La Cruzada Contra el Hambre ha Fallado en sus Objectivos: CONEVAL,” Animal
December 19, 2016.
75 Benjamin Russell, “ What AMLO’s Anti-Poverty Overhaul Says About His Government,” Americas Quarterly,
February 26, 2019.
76 Karina Palacios, “Corrupción Mancha a Jovenes Construyendo el Futúro,” Milenio, August 11, 2019.
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years. A range of bilateral talks, mechanisms, and institutions have helped the Mexican and U.S.
federal governments—as wel as stakeholders in border states, the private sector, and
nongovernmental organizations—find common ground on difficult issues, such as migration and
water management.
Until recently, U.S.-Mexican relations under the López Obrador administration have remained
cordial. Nevertheless, periodic tensions have emerged over trade disputes and tariffs; immigration
and border security issues, including President Trump’s determination to construct a border wal ;
and, most recently, U.S. investigations of Mexican officials. Mexico has accommodated
increasingly restrictive U.S. immigration and border security policies, possibly to achieve one of
its top foreign policy priorities: U.S. approval of USMCA. Experts predict the Joseph R. Biden
Administration may reassess security cooperation; phase out Trump-era migration policies;
monitor USMCA implementation and labor conditions in Mexico; and re-prioritize human rights,
clean energy issues, health cooperation, and anti-corruption efforts.77 (See “Outlook,” below).
Counternarcotics, Security Cooperation, and U.S. Foreign Aid78
As a primary source of and transit country for il icit drugs destined for the United States, Mexico
plays a key role in U.S. drug control policy. Mexican drug trafficking organizations continue to
pose the greatest criminal threat to the United States, according to the DEA’s 2019 National Drug
Threat Assessment
. In September 2020, President Trump warned that Mexico, the primary source
of heroin and methamphetamine seized in the United States and the transit route for most U.S.-
bound cocaine, risked “being found to have failed demonstrably to uphold its international drug
commitments.”79 To avoid such an outcome, President Trump noted the need for “increased
extraditions ... drug and asset seizures, data-based poppy eradication programming tied to
alternative development, and ... targeting fentanyl and methamphetamine production and
trafficking.”80 Recent declines in Mexican poppy cultivation and potential heroin production have
corresponded with increased production and trafficking of fentanyl in and through Mexico.81 In
2020, Mexico’s seizures of fentanyl reportedly increased by some 500%.82
Mexico is a long-time recipient of U.S. counterdrug assistance, but cooperation was limited
between the mid-1980s and mid-2000s due to U.S. distrust of Mexican officials and Mexican
sensitivity about U.S. involvement in the country’s internal affairs. Close cooperation resumed in
2007, when then-President Calderón requested U.S. counterdrug assistance. While initial U.S.
funding for what the U.S. and Mexican governments termed the “Mérida Initiative” focused
heavily on training and equipping Mexican security forces, U.S. assistance shifted over time to
place more emphasis on strengthening Mexican institutions. Until FY2016, U.S. assistance

77 See, for example, Vanda Felbab-Brown, “T he Upcoming Friction in US-Mexico Relations,” Brookings Institution,
December 4, 2020; Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff, “ Reversing T rump’s Immigration Policies Will “ T ake T ime,”
Biden T eam Says,” Washington Post, December 22, 2020; Lisa Viscidi, “Could the Biden Victory Help Redefine
Mexican Energy Policy? Inter-Am erican Dialogue, November 12, 2020.
78 See also CRS In Focus IF10578, Mexico: Evolution of the Mérida Initiative, 2007-2020; CRS In Focus IF10400,
Trends in Mexican Opioid Trafficking and Im plications for U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation.
79 President T rump, “Presidential Determination on Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for
Fiscal Year 2021,” memorandum for the Secretary of State, September 16, 2020.
80 President T rump, “Presidential Determination on Major Drug T ransit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries for
Fiscal Year 2021,” memorandum for the Secretary of State, September 16, 2020.
81 As the Chinese government has placed strict controls on fentanyl, Mexican drug trafficking organizations are
increasingly involved in supplying the U.S. market . U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Fentanyl Flow to the
United States
, March 6, 2020.
82 AP, “Mexico Fentanyl Seizures Soar by Almost 500% in 2020,” December 31, 2020.
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provided through the Mérida Initiative was subject to human rights withholding requirements (see
“Human Rights,” below). Individuals and units receiving U.S. support are vetted for potential
human rights issues in compliance with the Leahy Laws vetting requirements (22 U.S.C. 2378d).
President Trump’s executive orders on combating transnational criminal organizations (E.O.
13773) and enhancing border security (E.O. 13767) refocused the Mérida Initiative. Recent U.S.
priorities have included combating drug production, improving border interdiction and port
security, and addressing money laundering. In August 2019, the Trump Administration agreed to a
Mexican government proposal to create a High-Level Security Working Group, which included
the Mérida Initiative as one aspect of bilateral efforts.83 The COVID-19 pandemic hindered
bilateral cooperation. Recent tension in relations has led many analysts in both countries to
recommend the Mérida Initiative be reassessed or replaced.
Congress has demonstrated bipartisan support for the Mérida Initiative, which has accounted for
the majority of U.S. foreign assistance to Mexico over the past decade. (See Table 1 for recent
U.S. assistance to Mexico and Table A-1 for a summary of Mérida Initiative funding.)
Nevertheless, congressional concern about the efficacy of U.S.-Mexican efforts has increased.84
Table 1. U.S. Assistance to Mexico: FY2017-FY2021
(appropriations in mil ions of current dol ars)
Foreign Assistance Account
(enacted) (enacted)
Development Assistance (DA)
Economic Support and Development Fund

Economic Support Fund (ESF)
International Narcotics Control and Law
Enforcement (INCLE)
Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
International Military Education and Training
Non-proliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining,
and Related Programs (NADR)
Sources: U.S. Department of State, Congressional Budget Justifications for Foreign Operations, FY2019-FY2021;
Explanatory statement accompanying P.L. 116-94; Explanatory statement accompanying P.L. 116-260.
The Trump Administration requested $63.8 mil ion for Mexico for FY2021, nearly 60% lower
than the FY2020 estimated level. Its top foreign assistance priorities for Mexico were to deter
unauthorized migrant flows to the United States and disrupt transnational criminal organizations
by strengthening the rule of law, preventing crime, protecting human rights, and promoting

83 T estimony of U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Glenn, in U.S. Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the
Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and T rade, 116th Cong., 2nd sess., February 13, 2020.
84 Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, Report of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission ,
December 2020.
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transparency in Mexico.85 Congress provided nearly $159 mil ion for Mexico (including $150
mil ion in accounts that fund the Mérida Initiative) in the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations
Act (P.L. 116-260), approximately $95 million above the budget request.86 The explanatory
statement expanded the scope of the withholding requirements on Foreign Military Financing
(FMF). It also includes reporting requirements from H.Rept. 116-444, which require a
comprehensive strategy on the Mérida Initiative, as wel as reports on (1) steps Mexico is taking
to meet human rights standards, (2) how Mexico is addressing highway crimes, and (3) the
chal enges facing U.S. citizen minors in Mexico.
Evaluating the Mérida Initiative
Many analysts have observed the need for more reporting on Mérida Initiative outcomes to help Congress
oversee the funds it has appropriated. The State Department has pointed to some indicators of success, including
(1) intel igence-sharing and police cooperation that has helped capture and extradite high-profile criminals; (2)
national training standards for police, prosecutors, and judges; and (3) assistance that has helped Mexico receive
international accreditation of its prisons, labs, and police training institutes.87 Despite these results, escalating
violence in Mexico and drug overdose deaths in the United States have led many to question the efficacy of the
Mérida Initiative. The Government Accountability Office is auditing how U.S. programs have been monitored and
evaluated, among other topics.88
See CRS In Focus IF10578, Mexico: Evolution of the Mérida Initiative, 2007-2020, by Clare Ribando Seelke.
The Department of Defense (DOD) is not providing assistance through Mérida accounts.
However, DOD oversaw the procurement and delivery of equipment provided through the FMF
account, and bilateral military cooperation has increased along with Mérida-related law
enforcement and intel igence-sharing. Some DOD equipment programs are funded by annual
State Department appropriations for FMF, which totaled $5.0 mil ion in FY2020. International
Military Education and Training (IMET) funds, which totaled $1.8 mil ion in FY2020, support
training programs for the Mexican military, including courses in the United States. Apart from
State Department funding, DOD provides additional training, equipping, and other support to
Mexico that complements the Mérida Initiative through its own accounts and authorities. DOD
assistance, which totaled some $55.3 mil ion in FY2019, supports Mexico’s efforts to improve
security in high-crime areas, track and capture suspects, strengthen border security, and disrupt
il icit flows.
Congress may seek to influence how the incoming Biden Administration balances U.S. foreign
assistance priorities in Mexico; monitor the efficacy of U.S.-funded efforts; and recommend ways
to respond to chal enges posed by evolving criminal activities and changes in Mexico’s policies.
Law Enforcement Cooperation and Extraditions
During the Calderón government (2006-2012), the State Department used extraditions as an
indicator of the Mérida Initiative’s success. Mexico extradited an average of 98 people per year to
the United States, a significant increase over the prior administration. When President Peña Nieto

85 U.S. Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “FY2021 Foreign Assistance
Budget Request,” February 10, 2020.
86 T he explanatory statement accompanying Division K of H.R. 133 also includes $6.3 million for forest conservation
programs administered by USAID in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which is located in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
87 As of December 2020, 93 forensic labs, 98 prisons, and 28 police agencies have been accredited at the federal and
state levels across 22 states. CRS electronic correspondence with State Department, December 18, 2020.
88 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), U.S. Assistance to Mexico: State Department Could Improve Its
Monitoring of Mérida Initiative Projects
, GAO-20-388, May 12, 2020.
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

took office, extraditions fel to 54 in 2013 but rose to a high of 76 in 2016 (see Figure 4). In
January 2017, Mexico’s decision to extradite Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa
Cartel and one of the DEA’s top global targets, was a high point in bilateral cooperation after
years of multiagency cooperation. Total extraditions from Mexico fel from 69 in 2018 to 58 in
2019, and many of those extradited were not kingpins of high priority to the U.S. government.
After an improvement in U.S.-Mexican cooperation on extraditions early in 2020, many fear
cooperation could deteriorate if Mexico’s new law regulating foreign law enforcement is not
made more flexible in implementing regulations currently being developed.89 Attorney General
Wil iam Barr visited Mexico in December 2019 and January 2020 to discuss the importance of
extraditions and other bilateral cooperation. From January through February 25, 2020, Mexico
extradited 30 suspects, including Rubén Oseguera, second in command of the Jalisco New
Generation (CJNG) cartel.90 In August 2020, U.S.-trained state officials in Guanajuato arrested
the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and his successor. In November 2020, U.S.-Mexican
cooperation helped lead to Mexico’s arrest of the head of La Linea Cartel. It is unclear whether
Mexico wil continue to extradite such suspects to the United States.
Figure 4. Extraditions from Mexico to the United States: 1999-2020

Source: CRS based on data from U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of State.
Human Rights
The U.S. Congress has expressed ongoing concerns about human rights conditions in Mexico.
Congress has continued to monitor adherence to the Leahy vetting requirements that must be met
under the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, as amended (22 U.S.C. 2378d), which pertains
to State Department aid, and 10 U.S.C. 2249e, which guides DOD funding. DOD suspended
assistance to a brigade based in Tlatlaya, Mexico, due to concerns about the brigade’s potential
involvement in extrajudicial kil ings but has also worked with Mexico to rehabilitate units once
suspended from receiving U.S. assistance.91 Congressional concerns about labor conditions in

89Vanda Felbab-Brown, “A Dangerous Backtrack on the U.S.-Mexico Security Relationship,” Brookings Institution,
December 21, 2020.
90 Kirk Semple, “Under Pressure from T rump, Extraditions to U.S. from Mexico Soar,” New York Times, February 25,
91 Michael Evans, US: Mexico Mass Graves Raise “Alarming Questions” About Government “Complicity” in
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Mexico and the government’s ability to implement USMCA commitments prompted the inclusion
of $210 mil ion in funds for ILAB technical assistance programs in the USCMA’s labor
provisions in the agreement’s implementing legislation (P.L. 116-113).92
From FY2008 to FY2015, Congress made conditional 15% of U.S. assistance to the Mexican
military and police until the State Department sent a report to appropriators verifying that Mexico
was taking steps to comply with certain human rights standards. In FY2014, Mexico lost $5.5
mil ion in funding due to human rights concerns.93 For FY2016-FY2021, human rights reporting
requirements applied to FMF rather than to Mérida Initiative accounts. In recent years, human
rights reporting requirements have been in explanatory statements rather than the legislation. The
State Department reportedly has not sent human rights reports to Congress since FY2017, as the
agency maintains it is not legal y obligated to do so.94
U.S. assistance to Mexico has supported the Mexican government’s efforts to reform its judicial
system and improve human rights conditions in the country.95 Congress has provided funding to
support Mexico’s transition from an inquisitorial justice system to an oral, adversarial, and
accusatorial system that aims to strengthen due process and human rights protections for victims
and the accused.96 The State Department has established a high-level human rights dialogue with
Mexico, although the dialogue has not yet convened under the López Obrador government. The
agency also regularly engages with human rights and freedom of expression organizations in
Mexico and ensures that INCLE-funded training programs for police and other actors in the
criminal justice sector incorporate units on protecting human rights.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides technical assistance to the
Mexican federal and state governments as wel as complementary support to think tanks and civil
society organizations on human rights issues. USAID’s human rights programming includes a
new $24 mil ion initiative to support national and state implementation of laws against torture and
enforced disappearances and to provide forensic assistance to address unidentified remains. Other
ongoing initiatives seek to better protect journalists and human rights defenders, as wel as to
address enforced disappearances, femicides, and torture in selected states. In December 2020,
USAID published its five-year strategy for Mexico, which integrates these efforts into a broader
strategy to help state and local governments committed to addressing impunity and violence.97
Congress is likely to monitor human rights conditions in Mexico, including compliance with
conditions included in the explanatory statement to the FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act

Septem ber 2014 Cartel Killings, National Security Archive, Electronic Briefing Book No. 515, May 2015; Col.
Andrew M. Leonard, “ Leahy Law Diplomacy: Human Rights Vetting and Foreign Policy,” FAOA Journal of
International Affairs
, 2019.
92 T he purpose of the funding is for ILAB to administer technical assistance grants to support worker -focused capacity
building and efforts to reduce workplace discrimination, ch ild labor, forced labor, human trafficking, child exploitation
and other efforts related to implementation of Mexico’s labor commitments.
93 As a result of the State Department’s decision not to submit a report for Mexico, some $5 million in FY2014
Internat ional Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) assistance was reprogrammed by the State Department
to Peru. Mexico lost close to $500,000 in Foreign Military Financing (FMF), as well.
94 CRS interview with State Department official, March 20, 2020.
95 For an overview of recent programs, see GAO, U.S. Assistance to Mexico: State and USAID Allocated over $700
Million to Support Crim inal Justice, Border Security, and Related Efforts from Fiscal Year 2014 Through 2018
19-647, September 10, 2019.
96 While DOJ has supported reform efforts at the federal level, USAID programs have been at the state level since
2016. See USAID, “Mexico: Rule of Law,” September 2020, available at
97 USAID, Mexico: Country Development Cooperation Strategy, available at
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(H.R. 133) and commitments to improve labor conditions made under USMCA.98 Some Members
of Congress have written letters to U.S. and Mexican officials regarding human rights concerns,
including al egations of extrajudicial kil ings by security forces, violence against journalists and
human rights defenders, and abuses of migrants.
Congress may monitor how the López Obrador administration moves to punish past human rights
abusers; how Mexico’s National Guard, along with other security and judicial actors, is being
trained to respect human rights; what mechanisms exist to address al egations of abuse and
wrongdoing by such actors,; and the adequacy of victims’ assistance. Congress also may question
how the State Department and USAID can provide support to emerging human rights priorities,
as wel as the effects of ILAB technical assistance programs on labor conditions in Mexico.
Migration and Border Issues99
Mexico’s status as both the largest country of origin of migrants in the United States and a
continental neighbor means U.S. migration policies—including border and interior
enforcement—have deeply affected Mexicans.100 Due to many factors, including U.S.
enforcement and an improved Mexican economy, more Mexicans have been leaving the United
States than arriving since 2010.101 Stil , Mexicans comprise the vast majority of individuals who
are removed (deported) from the United States each year,102 as wel as a majority of those who
have received relief from removal through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA)
initiative.103 Protecting the rights of Mexicans living in the United States, including those who are
unauthorized and those who are DACA beneficiaries, remains a top Mexican government priority.

98 T hose conditions maintain that
of the funds available for assistance for Mexico under the FMF heading, 25 percent shall be
withheld from obligation until the Secretary of State determines and reports to the Committee that
the Government of Mexico is: (1) thoroughly and credibly investigating and prosecut ing violations
of human rights in civilian courts; (2) vigorously enforcing prohibitions against torture and the use
of testimony obtained through torture; and (3) searching for victims of forced disappearances and
credibly investigating and prosecuting those responsible for such crimes.” In addition, the State
Department must withhold those funds until the Secretary of State determines that “the
Government of Mexico is implementing credible counternarcotics and law enforcement strategies
in cooperation wit h the United States that reflect the input of civil society, have realistic goals, and
are consistent with the right of due process and protection of human rights.
For background, see CRS In Focus IF11308, USMCA: Labor Provisions, by M. Angeles Villarreal and Cathleen D.
Cimino-Isaacs. Niv Ellis, “ First USMCA Report Raises ‘Serious Concerns’ on Mexico Labor Law I mplementation,”
The Hill, December 17, 2020.
99 See CRS In Focus IF10215, Mexico’s Immigration Control Efforts, by Clare Ribando Seelke.
100 Mexicans are by far the largest group of immigrants in the United States, accounting for about 10.9 million people
in 2019, or 24% of the U.S. foreign-born population. Emma Israel and Jeanne Batalova, Mexican Im m igrants in the
United States,
Migration Policy Institute (MPI), November 5, 2020.
101 Emma Israel and Jeanne Batalova, Mexican Immigrants in the United States, Migration Policy Institute (MPI),
November 5, 2020.
102 In FY2020, the T rump Administration removed 100,388 Mexicans, down from 141,045 in FY2018. U.S.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Enforcement and
Removal, FY2018 and FY2020 ICE Enforcem ent and Rem oval Operations Reports.
103 T he Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) initiative is an initiative that the Obama Administration
implemented in 2012 to provide temporary relief from removal and work authorization to certain unlawfully present
individuals who arrived in the United States as children. See CRS Report R45995, Unauthorized Childhood Arrivals,
DACA, and Related Legislation
, by Andorra Bruno.
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link to page 26 Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

In recent years, Mexico’s consular network in the United States has bolstered the services offered
to Mexicans in the United States, including access to identity documents and legal counsel.
President Trump’s rhetoric and shifts in U.S. immigration policies tested U.S.-Mexican relations.
His repeated assertions that Mexico would pay for a border wal resulted in President Peña Nieto
canceling a White House meeting in January 2017 and strained relations for the remainder of his
term. In E.O. 13678 (2017), the Trump Administration broadened the categories of unauthorized
immigrants prioritized for removal. In September 2017, the Administration rescinded DACA
through a process the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled in June 2020 did not follow proper
procedures and had to be vacated.104 In June 2018, the Mexican government condemned U.S.
“zero tolerance” immigration policies.105
Under President López Obrador, Mexico has accommodated more U.S. policy changes that have
shifted the burden of sheltering and offering asylum to non-Mexican migrants from the United
States to Mexico and limited access to U.S. asylum processing for al migrants.106 Amid surging
arrivals, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials increasingly limited the number of
migrants accepted daily for screening at ports of entry through a process cal ed metering.107 In
January 2019, the Trump Administration launched the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), a
program requiring many non-Mexican migrants processed at the southwestern border to be
returned to Mexico to await their immigration proceedings.108 To avoid U.S. tariffs, in June 2019,
President López Obrador al owed the MPP to be expanded across the U.S.-Mexico border and to
increase Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts by deploying its National Guard.109 Mexico’s
apprehensions of migrants from Northern Triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Honduras) totaled roughly 154,400 in 2019, up from 138,600 in 2018 but below the 177,950
apprehended in 2015. Asylum requests have doubled in Mexico each year since 2015, reaching
70,300 in 2019 (Figure 5, below).
In FY2020, the number of apprehensions at the U.S. southwestern border dropped by more than
half and the composition of those arriving without documents changed, partial y as a result of the
COVID-19 pandemic. In FY2019, unprecedented numbers of migrants arrived in family groups,
primarily from the Northern Triangle countries, many requesting asylum. In FY2020, by contrast,
Mexican adults comprised 79% of apprehensions.110 In late 2019, DHS relaunched interior
repatriation flights for Mexicans to combat that trend.

104 Prior to the Supreme Court decision, many DACA beneficiaries feared removal and the Mexican government
expressed concern about their predicament. CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10497, Suprem e Court: DACA Rescission Violated
the APA
, by Ben Harrington.
105 CRS Report R45266, The Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” Immigration Enforcement Policy, by William
A. Kandel; Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “ Press Release 180: T he Mexican Government Condemns U.S. Policy
of Separating Migrant Families,” June 19, 2018.
106 CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10559, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Powers and Limitations: A Brief Primer, by
Hillel R. Smith; CRS In Focus IF11363, Processing Aliens at the U.S.-Mexico Border: Recent Policy Changes, by
Hillel R. Smith, Ben Harrington, and Audrey Singer,
107 T he number of migrants waiting to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on informal “wait
lists” in Mexico peaked at some 26,000 in mid-2019. Stephanie Leutert et al., Metering Update, Strauss Center at the
University of T exas at Austin, August 2019. T he most recent update, published in November 202 0, estimated that
15,690 migrants remained on wait lists.
108 DHS, “Migrant Protection Protocols,” at
109 U.S. Department of State, “Joint Declaration and Supplementary Agreement Between the United States of America
and Mexico,” June 7, 2019, at
110 DHS, CBP, Customs and Border Protection, at and -statistics/title-8-and-title-42-statistics.
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Figure 5. Mexico: Reported Apprehensions from
Northern Triangle Countries and Asylum Applications

Source: Created by CRS with information from Mexico’s Secretary of the Interior.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
issued an order on March 20, 2020, to restrict the entry of certain foreign nationals at U.S. land
borders.111 CBP is implementing the order—referred to as Title 42 for the public health law it fal s
under—through at least January 21, 2020.112 Although Title 42 does not direct CBP to suspend
asylum processing, CBP reportedly is not formal y screening most arrivals without valid
documents for their eligibility for asylum or other protections under U.S. and international law.113
Under Title 42, more than 316,500 migrants from Mexico and the Northern Triangle were
expel ed to Mexico through November 2020.114
Mexican border cities, some of which have high rates of violent crime, have been sheltering tens
of thousands of migrants since 2019 due to metering, MPP, and Title 42. Among the concerns
raised by human rights organizations is that the rapid expulsions reportedly have led to cursory
medical screenings and few qualifying for existing humanitarian exceptions from expulsion.115
CBP reportedly is not always following local repatriation agreements with Mexico that govern
U.S. removals, nor is it limiting expulsions to larger U.S. ports of entry. As a result, expel ed
migrants sometimes have arrived at night in remote border towns with no officials to receive

111 See CRS Insight IN11308, COVID-19: Restrictions on Travelers at U.S. Land Borders, by Audrey Singer.
112 T he order states that individuals without valid entry documents, those who attempt to enter unlawfully, or those
apprehended between ports of entry must be returned “ to the country from which they entered the United States, their
country of origin, or another location as practicable, as rapidly as possible with as little time spent in congregate
settings as practicable under the circumst ances.”
113 Dara Lind, “ Leaked Border Patrol Memo T ells Agents to Send Migrants Back Immediately —Ignoring Asylum
Law,” ProPublica, April 1, 2020.
114 CBP, “Nationwide Enforcement Encounters: T itle 8 Enforcement Actions and T itle 42 Expulsions,” at -statistics/title-8-and-title-42-statistics.
115 WOLA, “ U.S. and Mexico Must Urgently Address Impact of Ongoing Deportations and Expulsions During
COVID-19,” May 29, 2020.
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

them and few services.116 With many shelters closed to new arrivals due to COVID-19, migrants
have experienced precarious living situations and some have been attacked by criminal groups.117
Congress may continue to provide funding and oversight to address migration, border security,
and related humanitarian and health issues on the U.S.-Mexican border and within Mexico. U.S.
funds appropriated for the Mérida Initiative have supported Mexico’s immigration control efforts
and global funds provided through the Migration and Refugee Assistance to improve asylum
processing, shelters, and assistance to migrants in Mexico.
Economic and Trade Relations and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada
The United States and Mexico have a strong economic and trade relationship that was bolstered
through NAFTA. From 1994 through the USMCA’s entry into force on July 1, 2020, NAFTA had
removed virtual y al tariff and nontariff trade and investment barriers among partner countries
and provided a rules-based mechanism to govern North American trade. Most economic studies
concluded the net economic effect of NAFTA on the United States and Mexico was smal but
positive, though there were adjustment costs to some sectors in both countries.
In 2019, Mexico became the United States’ top total trade partner. Mexico ranked second as a
source of U.S. merchandise imports and second as an export market for U.S. goods. The United
States is Mexico’s most important export market for goods, with 85% of Mexican exports
destined for the United States. Merchandise trade between the two countries in 2019 was more
than 7.5 times higher (in nominal terms) than in 1993, the year NAFTA entered into force. The
merchandise trade balance went from a U.S. surplus of $1.7 bil ion in 1993 (the year before
NAFTA entered into force) to a widening deficit that reached $101.8 bil ion in 2019.119 In
services, the United States had a trade surplus with Mexico of $3.1 bil ion in 2019 (latest
available data); it largely consists of travel, trade, business, and financial services.120
Total trade (exports plus imports) amounted to $614.5 bil ion in 2019. Much of that trade occurs
in the context of supply chains, as manufacturers in each country work together to create goods.
The expansion of trade has resulted in the creation of vertical supply relationships, especial y
along the border. The flow of intermediate inputs produced in the United States and exported to
Mexico and the return flow of finished products has increased the importance of the U.S.-
Mexican border region as a production site.
Recent U.S. Administrations have worked with Mexico to coordinate economic issues. The
Obama Administration worked with Mexico to balance border security with facilitating legitimate
trade and travel, promote competitiveness, and pursue energy integration through a cabinet-level
High-Level Economic Dialogue chaired by Vice President Biden. The High-Level Regulatory
Cooperation Council helped align regulatory principles. Trilateral (with Canada) cooperation
occurred under the aegis of the North American Leadership Summits.

116 Madison Lee Beal, “Rapid Migrant Expulsions Strain Mexican Border Community,”,
December 15, 2020.
117 Human Rights First, Delivered to Danger, December 15, 2020.
118 T his section is drawn from CRS Report RL32934, U.S.-Mexico Economic Relations: Trends, Issues, and
Im plications
, by M. Angeles Villarreal.
119 Merchandise trade data in this report are from Global T rade Atlas.
120 Services trade data in this report is from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at
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Not al of those mechanisms continued under the Trump Administration. However, the Executive
Steering Committee (ESC)—which guided efforts along the border during the Obama
Administration, as discussed below—expanded to focus on boosting competitiveness. The U.S.-
Mexican CEO Dialogue also continued to convene biannual meetings and issue recommendations
for both governments.
Modernizing the U.S.-Mexican Border
Delays and unpredictable wait times have been a perennial problem at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The majority of U.S.-Mexican trade passes through a port of entry along the southwestern border,
often more than once, due to the increasing integration of manufacturing processes in the United
States and Mexico. Past bilateral efforts have contributed to reductions in wait times at some
points of entry, but infrastructure and staffing issues remain on both the U.S. and Mexican sides
of the border. While public-private partnerships have been used to address some border
infrastructure issues, the Trump Administration’s deployment of customs officials to deal with
surging unauthorized migration flows in 2019 arguably hindered trade.121
In May 2010, the United States and Mexico declared their intent to collaborate on enhancing the
U.S.-Mexican border.122 A Twenty-First Century Border Bilateral ESC has met since then, most
recently in March 2020, to develop binational action plans and oversee implementation of those
plans.123 The ESC sets goals within broad objectives: coordinating infrastructure development,
expanding trusted traveler and shipment programs, establishing pilot projects for cargo
preclearance, improving cross-border commerce and ties, and bolstering information sharing
among law enforcement agencies. Goals in some of these areas have faced chal enges due to the
Trump Administration’s focus on border barrier construction.124
Since the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, a key chal enge for U.S., Mexican, and Canadian
officials has been how to maintain supply chains for industries deemed essential during the
pandemic while protecting the health of workers employed in those sectors. Officials have
communicated on a weekly basis to try to minimize the effects of border travel restrictions and to
determine when current trade and travel restrictions can be safely lifted.125 Congress may monitor
how the incoming Biden Administration balances trade and infrastructure issues with other
priorities along the southwestern border.

121 GAO, U.S. Ports of Entry: Update on CBP Public-Private Partnership Programs, GAO-19-263R, March 14, 2019;
Daniel Borunda and Rafael Carranza, “ ‘We Could see the Cartels say: T his is an Opportunity’: Shifting CBP Officers
Could Leave Ports Vulnerable,” El Paso Tim es, April 1, 2019.
122 White House, “Declaration by the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United
Mexican States Concerning T wenty-First Century Border Management,” press release, May 19, 2010. As mentioned,
U.S.-Mexican security cooperation along the border did not begin with the Mérida Init iative.
123 T he Executive Steering Committee (ESC) coordinates efforts with Mexico in three areas: infrastruct ure, secure
flows, and law enforcement/security. See U.S. Department of State, United States-Mexico Bilateral Executive Steering
Committee of the 21st Century Border Management Initiative, March 4, 2020. At a working level, the U.S.-Mexico
Bridges and Border Crossings group convenes an annual plenary meeting of federal officials from both countries and
representatives from the border states in both countries to discuss infrastructure and other issues.
124 Vanda Felbab-Brown, Wall: the Real Costs of a Barrier Between the United States and Mexico , Brookings, August
125 U.S. Department of State, “North American Cooperation on COVID-19,” May 12, 2020.
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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement 126
The USMCA replaced NAFTA upon its entry into force on July 1, 2020. In May 2017, the Trump
Administration sent a 90-day notification to Congress of its intent to begin talks with Canada and
Mexico to renegotiate and modernize NAFTA, as required by the 2015 Trade Promotion
Authority (TPA). Negotiations began on August 16, 2017, and were concluded on September 30,
2018. USMCA was signed on November 30, 2018. The House Democratic leadership
recommended modifications to USMCA (on labor, the environment, and dispute settlement,
among other topics) that led to changes to the agreement and a subsequent negotiation with
Mexico and Canada on a USMCA protocol of amendment on December 10, 2019. The House
approved USMCA implementing legislation in December 2019, and the Senate followed suit in
January 2020 (P.L. 116-113).
USMCA, composed of 34 chapters and 12 side letters, retains most of NAFTA’s market opening
measures and other measures, but it makes notable changes to auto rules of origin, dispute
settlement provisions, government procurement, investment, and intel ectual property right (IPR)
protection. It also modernizes provisions in services, labor, and the environment and addresses
new trade issues, such as digital trade, state-owned enterprises, anti-corruption, and currency
misalignment. Key issues for Congress in the debate surrounding USMCA included worker rights
protection in Mexico, IPR provisions and access to medicine, the enforceability of labor and
environmental provisions, as wel the constitutional authority of Congress over international trade
and its role in revising, approving, or withdrawing from the agreement. Congress also was active
in considering U.S. negotiating objectives and the extent to which USMCA made progress in
meeting them, as required under the TPA.
ILAB is in the process of scaling up its personnel and programming in Mexico to support
implementation of USMCA. In December 2020, the Department of Labor announced $20 mil ion
in new grants to support USMCA implementation and wil assist Mexico in meeting its labor
obligations. These grants bring the total committed for this purpose by ILAB to nearly $50
mil ion in 2020. The goal of the assistance is to ensure enforcement of Mexican labor laws and
legitimate collective bargaining rights; increase measures to mitigate COVID-19 among workers;
and address child labor and forced labor in Mexico’s supply chains, including the agricultural
sector.127 USMCA implementing legislation, P.L. 116-113, included $180 mil ion over four years
for technical assistance projects related to the agreement and $30 mil ion to pay for labor attachés
and other staff to monitor Mexico’s USMCA compliance.128
On April 24, 2020, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress that Canada
and Mexico had taken the legal and regulatory steps necessary to implement the USCMA and that
the agreement would enter into force on July 1, 2020. On July 8, 2020, President Trump hosted
President López Obrador at the White House to commemorate the USMCA’s entry into force.129
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not to attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

126 T his section is drawn from the summary of CRS Report R44981, The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement
, by M. Angeles Villarreal and Ian F. Fergusson.
127 U.S. Department of Labor, “U.S. Department of Labor Announces $20 Million in New Grants to Support USMCA
Implementation, Bringing the 2020 T otal to Nearly $50 Million,” News Release, December 16, 2020.
128 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, “ Labor Rights and the United States-Mexico-
Canada Agreement (USMCA),” at
129 T he White House, “Remarks by President T rump and President López Obrador of the United Mexican States in
Signing of a Joint Declaration,” July 8, 2020.
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Now that USMCA is in the implementation phase, Congress may wish to consider various issues
regarding the agreement. These issues include how the new importing requirements under
USMCA are being phased in and whether there has been sufficient time for importers to adjust to
them; whether a further extension for implementation of the new rules of origin for the motor
vehicle industry beyond January 2021 is needed;130 how wel Mexico is implementing labor law
reforms to provide more workers’ rights protection; whether the Department of Labor is
adequately using funding provided by USMCA legislation to support implementation of Mexico’s
labor reforms; the effectiveness of the new enforcement measures, including the so-cal ed rapid
mechanism;131 and the extent to which USMCA’s updated dispute resolution procedures
are improving enforcement of the agreement’s provisions.
Selected CRS Products on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement
CRS Report R44981, The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), by M. Angeles Vil arreal and Ian F.
CRS In Focus IF10997, U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Trade Agreement, by M. Angeles Vil arreal and Ian F. Fergusson
CRS Legal Sidebar LSB10399, USMCA: Implementation and Considerations for Congress, by Nina M. Hart
CRS In Focus IF11308, USMCA: Labor Provisions, by M. Angeles Vil arreal and Cathleen D. Cimino-Isaacs
CRS In Focus IF11167, USMCA: Investment Provisions, by Christopher A. Casey and M. Angeles Vil arreal
CRS In Focus IF11399, Enforcing International Trade Obligations in USMCA: The State-State Dispute Settlement
, by Nina M. Hart
The future of energy production in Mexico is important for Mexico’s economic growth and for
the U.S. energy sector. Mexico has considerable oil and gas resources, but its state oil company
(Pemex), has struggled to counter declining production and postponed needed investments due to
fiscal chal enges. Mexico’s 2013 constitutional reforms on energy opened up oil, electricity, gas,
transmission, production, and sales to private and foreign investment while keeping ownership of
Mexico’s hydrocarbons under state control, as established in its 1917 constitution.
The 2013 reforms created opportunities for U.S. businesses in exploration, pipeline construction
and ownership, natural gas production, and commercial gasoline sales. Although the reforms did
not privatize Pemex, they did expose the company to competition and hastened its entrance into
joint ventures. Because of the reforms, Mexico has received more than $160 bil ion in promised
investment. 133 However, the reforms ended subsidies that kept gasoline prices low for Mexican
consumers and failed to reverse production declines and ongoing problems within Pemex. While
analysts stil predict that the reforms wil bring long-term benefits to the country, the Peña Nieto

130 Anthony Esposito, Sharay Angulo, “Some Automakers Want More T ime to Meet New T rade Rules, Mexican
Official Says,” Reuters, December 22, 2020.
131 T his mechanism provides for an independent panel investigations at covered facilities, with the potential for
penalties and blocking of imports from the entities.
132 For background on Mexico’s energy reforms, see CRS Report R43313, Mexico’s Oil and Gas Sector: Background,
Reform Efforts, and Im plications for the United States
, coordinated by Clare Ribando Seelke, and CRS Report R44747,
Cross-Border Energy Trade in North Am erica: Present and Potential, by Paul W. Parfomak et al.
133 Duncan Wood and John Padilla, Mexico’s new Hydrocarbons Model: a Critical Assessment Four Years Later,
Wilson Center & IPD Latin America, 2018Wood and Padilla, 2018.
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administration oversold their short-term impacts, which has emboldened those within the López
Obrador government who have opposed private involvement in the sector.134
The United States sought to help lock in Mexico’s energy reforms through the NAFTA
renegotiations. NAFTA included some reservations for investment in Mexico’s energy sector.
USMCA reinforces Mexico’s 2013 constitutional reforms and the current legal framework for
private energy projects in Mexico. It includes investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms
similar to those that existed in NAFTA for the oil and gas, infrastructure, and other energy
sectors, even as those mechanisms were limited for other sectors.135 In addition, the free trade
agreement maintains tariff-free exports of U.S. natural gas to Mexico, which have increased
significantly since the 2013 reforms.136
Private sector trade, innovation, and investment have created a North American energy market
that is interdependent and multidirectional, with cross-border gas pipelines and liquefied natural
gas (LNG) shipments from the United States to Mexico surging. In 2019, the value of U.S.
petroleum products exports to Mexico totaled nearly $30 bil ion, more than double the value of
U.S. energy imports from Mexico ($13 bil ion).137 Some experts estimate that the United States,
Mexico, and Canada represent 20% of global oil and gas supply, as wel as 20%-25% of the
expected additions to international supply over the next 25 years. They believe that deepened
energy cooperation with Mexico wil give North America an industrial advantage.138
López Obrador’s energy policies have concerned energy investors. He opposed the 2013 reforms,
but he and his top officials said his government wil honor existing contracts that do not involve
any corruption. Despite that commitment, the new government has halted future rounds of
auctions and is upgrading existing refineries and constructing a new refinery in Tabasco to
decrease reliance on U.S. natural gas. López Obrador’s energy plans also focus on revitalizing
Pemex, although the company’s financial problems already have become a financial burden for
the government and its credit rating has been downgraded to “junk” status by ratings agencies.139
The government’s decisions to halt new auctions in wind and solar energy and to freeze
permitting for those types of projects, which also had attracted significant investment as a result
of the reforms, have stal ed at least 200 projects.140
Opportunities exist for continued U.S.-Mexican energy cooperation in the hydrocarbons sector,
but the future of those efforts may depend on the policies of the López Obrador government.
Leases have been awarded in the Gulf of Mexico under the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary
Agreement, which was approved by Congress in December 2013 (P.L. 113-67). Bilateral efforts
to ensure that hydrocarbon resources are developed without unduly damaging the environment
could continue, possibly through collaboration between Mexican and U.S. regulatory entities.
Educational exchanges and training opportunities for Mexicans working in the petroleum sector

134 Ibid; Duncan Wood et al., Changing the Guard in Mexico: AMLO’s Opportunities and Challenges, July 2018.
135 CRS In Focus IF11167, USMCA: Investment Provisions, by Christopher A. Casey and M. Angeles Villarreal.
136 “USMCA Deal to Keep T ariffs off North American oil, gas T rade,” S & P Globa Market Intelligence, December 10,
137 U.S. Energy Information Administration, “In 2019, the U.S. Imported $13 Billion of Energy Goods from Mexico,
Exported $34 Billion,” November 4, 2020.
138 Earl Anthony Wayne and David Shedd, Assuring Energy Security with a Modern NAFTA, Wilson Center Mexico
Institute, May 9, 2018.
139 “Mexico and Pemex credit ratings cut by Moody’s and Fitch,” LatinFinance, April 20, 2020.
140 Max De Haldevang and Amy Stillman, “AMLO’s Nationalist Bent Casts 200 Energy Projects Into Limbo,”
Bloom berg, December 22, 2020.
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could expand. The United States and Mexico could build upon efforts to provide natural gas
resources to help reduce energy costs in Central America and connect Mexico to the Central
American electricity grid, as discussed during conferences on Central America cohosted by both
governments in 2017 and in 2018. Analysts also have urged the United States to provide more
technical assistance to Mexico—particularly in deepwater and shale exploration.
In addition to monitoring energy-related issues as they pertain to USMCA, congressional
oversight may involve broader issues related to the fairness of policies adopted by the López
Obrador government toward foreign energy companies and investors.141
Border Environmental Issues142
The transboundary flow of raw sewage and industrial wastewater has been a focus of bilateral
environmental dialogue since at least the U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty of 1944. Effluent, trash, and
sediment flowing into the United States from Mexico has caused health and environmental
problems in the border region. Wastewater collection and treatment system capacity has not kept
pace with rapid population growth in the border region. Also, the aging of existing wastewater
infrastructure has led to increased maintenance issues, such as pipeline ruptures. To address
border sanitation issues, Congress has appropriated funds for the International Boundary and
Water Commission (IBWC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the North
American Development Bank (NADB) to construct or finance wastewater infrastructure on both
sides of the border. Several sanitation facilities have been constructed, though continued
transboundary flows require bilateral cooperation.
International Boundary and Water Commission
The IBWC, consisting of U.S. and Mexico sections, implements boundary and water treaties
between the United States and Mexico.143 IBWC’s activities are conducted through Minutes,
which have the force of law when both the U.S. and Mexican governments provide written
approval through their respective sections of the IBWC. To address the issue of transboundary
effluent flows, the IBWC has taken actions under numerous Minutes.144 Under this authority,
IBWC has constructed and operates three wastewater treatment plants, two of which treat
Mexican wastewater on the U.S. side of the border. These two wastewater treatment plant are the
South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant in San Ysidro, CA, and the Nogales
Wastewater Treatment Plant in Nogales, AZ. IBWC also operates the Nuevo Laredo Wastewater
Treatment Plant in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
IBWC receives funds for construction activities through State Department appropriations. For
FY2021, the State Department’s budget request specified that $29.4 mil ion, requested for

141 Anthony Esposito, “U.S. Lawmakers Complain to T rump Over Mexican Energy Policy,” Reuters, October 23, 2020.
142 T his section was authored by Elena Humphreys, Analyst in Environmental Policy.
143 In 1882, the United States and Mexico created the International Boundary Commission (IBC) as a temporary
boundary-setting body. See 1882 Boundary Convention, Article 3. T he United States and Mexico reestablished the IBC
in 1889 and made it permanent in 1900. See Convention Between the United States of America and the United States
of Mexico, Extending for an Indefinite Period the T reaty of March 1, 1889, Between the T wo Governments, Known as
the Water Boundary Convention, U.S.-Mex., Nov. 21, 1900, 31 Stat. 1936. T reaty Between the United States of
America and Mexico Respecting Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and T ijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande, U.S. -
Mex., February 3, 1944, 59 Stat. 1219, at reaty.pdf. T he 1944 T reaty, Article 3,
states that the countries agree to give preferential attention to the solution of all border sanitation problems.
144 T hese Minutes can be found at reaties_Minutes/Minutes_ByProject.html.
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construction funds, be used for the Amistad Dam, flood control in the Rio Grande, and
rehabilitating IBWC wastewater infrastructure in Nogales, AZ.145 The FY2021 Consolidated
Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260) includes an appropriation of $49.0 mil ion for IBWC
construction, $12.1 mil ion above enacted FY2020 IBWC construction appropriations.
Congressional appropriators have shown interest in increasing oversight regarding transboundary
sewage flows. P.L. 116-260 includes a requirement for the Secretary of State, in coordination with
the heads of other relevant federal agencies, to submit a report to the appropriations committee on
the implementation of the interagency plan developed pursuant to the Further Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94), within 90 days of enactment. P.L. 116-94 directed the
Secretary of State, as wel as other relevant federal agencies, to develop a plan to
address the impacts of toxic transboundary flows on U.S. communities, including: (1) an
explanation of the sources and impacts of such flows; (2) the delineatio n of responsibility
between each agency and a description of necessary actions and resources for each agency
to address such impacts; (3) steps that will be taken to raise the issue of transboundary
flows with the Government of Mexico, including by utilizing U.S. assistance for Mexico
to obtain improvements to prevent, divert, and/or treat toxic flows on the Mexican side of
the border; and (4) steps that will be taken to improve the timeliness of warnings to U.S.
communities regarding toxic conditions.
North American Development Bank
In October 1993, the United States and Mexico adopted an agreement to establish the Border
Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) and the NADB to provide financial assistance for
environmental infrastructure projects in the border region. The agreement noted the need for
environmental infrastructure, especial y in the areas of water pollution, wastewater treatment, and
municipal solid waste. The BECC is authorized to help border states and communities coordinate,
design, and mobilize financing for environmental infrastructure projects, and to certify projects
for financing. The NADB evaluates the financial feasibility of BECC-certified projects and
provides financing as appropriate. Congress authorized U.S. participation in the BECC and
NADB in legislation implementing the North America Free Trade Agreement (P.L. 103-182).
Enacted in 2004, P.L. 108-215 authorized several operational reforms to the NADB. In 2017,
BECC and NADB were integrated into a single institution.146
The USMCA Implementation Act (P.L. 116-113), Title VIII, Subtitle C, cal ed for U.S. NADB
board members to urge NADB to prioritize financing environmental infrastructure projects (over
road or commercial projects), streamline project certification and financing procedures, and
develop project performance measures. The FY2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-
260), Division O, Title VI, authorized the U.S. Treasury to contribute up to $1.02 bil ion for U.S.
shares of NADB capital stock.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Congress annual y provides funding to EPA for high priority water and wastewater infrastructure
projects in the U.S.-Mexican border region. In 1997, EPA and NADB entered into an agreement,
under which EPA contributes much of its annual border infrastructure appropriation to NADB for

145 Congressional Budget Justification Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Washington,
DC, March 11, 2019, p. 45, at
146 North American Development Bank (NADB), “NADB and BECC merge,” press release, November 7, 2017,
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grants to construct water infrastructure on both sides of the border. For FY2021, Congress
provided $30 mil ion for the Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP) through an EPA
account in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021.147 EPA in turn provides these funds148 to
two programs: (1) the Project Development Assistance Program (PDAP) and (2) the Border
Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF). The PDAP and BEIF programs are intended to identify
and fund drinking water quality, wastewater management infrastructure projects, or both. Project
sponsors can apply jointly to the PDAP/BEIF program through NADB, which screens for initial
eligibility and prioritizes projects using EPA’s ranking methodologies.149 To be eligible for BEIF
grants, projects located in Mexico must have a U.S. benefit and are required to provide a cost-
share, as determined by the Mexican national water agency.
The USMCA Implementation Act (P.L. 116-113) includes a supplemental appropriation of $300
mil ion for EPA to support high-priority wastewater facilities, after consultation with the
appropriate border commission.150 The act directs EPA to carry out design, construction,
operation, and maintenance activities of high-priority treatment works in the Tijuana River Val ey
to treat wastewater flows originating in Mexico.151 EPA is directed to carry out such activities in
coordination with the U.S. Section of the IBWC; federal agencies, including the Department of
State and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and state and local partners. In July 2020, EPA
convened the USMCA Interagency Consultation Group, composed of the partners identified in
the act, and later announced the selection of two projects to be funded with the USMCA
supplemental appropriation.152 Under a new memorandum of understanding with IBWC, EPA wil
design and construct a structure to divert 10 mil ion gal ons per day of flows to the South Bay
International Wastewater Treatment Plant. EPA, working with the City of San Diego, also wil
develop a sediment and trash reduction strategy at the U.S.-Mexican border to mitigate such
waste from going into the Pacific Ocean.153
Water Resource Issues154
The United States and Mexico share the waters of the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. These
shared rivers have long presented complex issues leading to cooperation and conflict in the U.S.-
Mexican border region and between the United States and Mexico.

147 T he Joint Explanatory Statement for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, Division G, states that combined
stormwater runoff and raw sewage abatement projects are eligible for BWIP.
148 Funds are divided between the Environmental Protection Agency (EP A) Region 6 (for projects in New Mexico,
T exas, Chihuahua, Nueva Leon, Coahuila, and T amaulipas) and EPA Region 9 (for projects in Arizona, California,
Baja California, and Sonora).
149 Project application documents can be found at
environment -infrastructure-fund-beif-pdap .
150 T he supplemental appropriation of $300 million for high priority wastewater facilities in P.L. 116-113 parallels the
FY2020 BWIP appropriation, which is for “the construction of high priority water and wastewater facilities.”
151 P.L. 116-113 §821.
152 EPA, “EPA Announces T wo Near-T erm, Clean Water Projects in the T ijuana River,” press release, October 2,
153 EPA, “EPA Announces T wo Near-T erm, Clean Water Projects in the T ijuana River,” press release, October 2,
154 T his section is drawn from CRS Report R45430, Sharing the Colorado River and the Rio Grande: Cooperation and
Conflict with Mexico
, by Nicole T . Carter, Stephen P. Mulligan, and Charles V. Stern .
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The U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty of 1944 and other binational agreements guide how the two
governments share the flows of these rivers.155 The binational IBWC administers these
agreements and includes a U.S. Section that operates under foreign policy guidance from the U.S.
Department of State. Since 1944, the IBWC has been the principal venue for addressing river-
related disputes between the United States and Mexico.
Under the U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty of 1944, the United States is required to provide Mexico
annual y with 1.5 mil ion acre-feet of Colorado River water.156 U.S. deliveries to Mexico in the
Rio Grande basin near El Paso/Ciudad Juárez occur annual y under a 1906 binational convention,
whereas Mexico’s deliveries downstream of Fort Quitman, TX, are established in the U.S.-
Mexico Water Treaty of 1944. The 1944 treaty typical y requires Mexico to deliver to the United
States a minimum amount during a five-year cycle.
Recent Developments in the Colorado River Basin. The United States continues to meet its
Colorado River annual delivery requirements to Mexico pursuant to the U.S.-Mexico Water
Treaty of 1944. Recent IBWC actions on the Colorado River have focused on how to manage the
Colorado River’s water and infrastructure to improve water availability during drought and to
restore and protect riverine ecosystems. The most recent minute governing basin operations,
Minute 323 (signed in September 2017), is a set of binational measures that provides for
cooperative basin water management, including environmental flows to restore riverine habitat.
Minute 323 also provides for Mexico to share in cutbacks during shortage conditions in the U.S.
portion of the basin, including delivery reductions under drought contingency plans authorized by
Congress in April 2019.157 In addition, Minute 323 designates a “Mexican Water Reserve”
through which Mexico can delay its water deliveries from the United States and store its delayed
deliveries upstream at Lake Mead, thereby increasing the lake’s elevation.158 For the Colorado
River basin, issues before Congress may be largely related to oversight of Minute 323
implementation and water management associated with potential shortage conditions. Congress
also may be interested in the upcoming 2026 expiration of Minute 323 and the negotiation of any
extensions or replacement agreements in the interim.
Recent Development in the Rio Grande Basin. On multiple occasions since 1994, Mexico has
not met its Rio Grande delivery obligations of 1,750,000 acre-feet within the five-year cycle
established by the U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty of 1944, most recently during the five-year cycle
from 2010 to 2015.159 Mexico avoided ending the October 2015 to October 2020 cycle with a
water delivery deficit as the result of a transfer to the United States of Mexican water stored at
binational IBWC dams. The October 2020 Minute 325 provided that a shortfal would be avoided
through the transfer of water stored at two IBWC dams from Mexican to U.S. ownership. Minute
325 resulted in the transfer of ownership of 144,728 acre-feet of water.160 Minute 325 also

155 Another example of a water resource related treaty provision is Article IV of the 1970 T reaty to Resolve Pending
Boundary Differences and Maintain the Rio Grande and Colorado River as the Inter national Boundary, U.S.-Mex.
156 Under the treaty, the United States must supply an additional 200,000 acre-feet when surplus is declared. During
drought, the United States may reduce deliveries to Mexico in similar proportion to reductions of U.S. uses.
157 Drought Contingency Plans for the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin were enacted in April 2019 in P.L. 116-
14. For more information, see CRS Report R45546, Managem ent of the Colorado River: Water Allocations, Drought,
and the Federal Role
, by Charles V. Stern and Pervaze A. Sheikh .
158 Lake Mead elevation is the baseline used by the United States for determining shortage conditions and associated
water delivery cutbacks for the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.
159 Mexico made up for those shortfalls in subsequent five-year cycles, as authorized under the U.S.-Mexico Water
T reaty of 1944.
160 Amount of the transfer is described in Letter from Jayne Harkins, Commissioner, U.S. IBWC, to Greg Abbott,
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al owed for negotiation of an agreement for the potential temporary use of U.S. water for
minimum municipal needs in Mexico below the Amistad Dam. In addition, Minute 325 indicated
that two Rio Grande working groups are to be established as part of the efforts to reach a goal of
developing a minute on increased reliability and predictability of Rio Grande deliveries to water
users in the United States and Mexico by December 2023. To date, Congress has been primarily
involved in conducting oversight through reporting requirements for the U.S. Department of
State, such as those included in P.L. 116-6 (S.Rept. 115-282). Pursuant to the various reporting
requirements, reports have been delivered to various committees of Congress, most recently in
February 2020.
U.S.-Mexican Health Cooperation
As with neighboring Canada, robust trade and migration and an extensive shared border have
made health cooperation an important part of the U.S.-Mexican bilateral relationship.161
Cooperation on public health efforts developed in response to the outbreaks of SARS (2002-
2004) and H1N1 (2009). Trilateral efforts intensified in 2005 and proved important for preventing
the spread of H1N1 from Mexico in 2009. The United States and Mexico increased health
surveil ance measures through robust information-sharing, and in 2012, the countries expanded
focus from avian influenza to al influenzas. The current trilateral health architecture is led by the
North American Health Security Working Group (NAHSWG) under the health systems
strengthening and preparedness activities laid out in the 2012 North American Plan for Animal
and Pandemic Influenza.162 These activities include
 detecting, monitoring and controlling an outbreak;
 facilitating communication among entities in each country that need to respond to
the outbreak;
 sustaining infrastructure and mitigating human, economic, and social impacts of
an outbreak; and
 preventing the entry and spread of such outbreaks.
The U.S. government is represented on the NAHSWG by permanent attachés from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the CDC, among others. Mexico is one of
five countries that has a permanent HHS representative tasked with leading health diplomacy,
encouraging collaborative research, and serving as a key point of contact for the U.S. government
in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.163 There is also a U.S.-Mexican technical working
group led by the CDC that shares information on laboratory capacity, investigative findings, and
training, among other issues.164 On March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
issued a joint statement with Mexico announcing the suspension of nonessential travel between
the two countries; the suspension has been extended through January 20, 2021. Since then, the

Governor of T exas, November 3, 2020.
161 T his paragraph draws from Andrew I. Rudman and Duncan Wood, Pandemics and Beyond: The Potential for U.S.-
Mexican Cooperation in Public Health
, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, March 2020.
162 Embassy of Mexico in the United States, “U.S.-Mexico Cooperation Framework on Health Issues,” May 4, 2020.
163 T he other countries with HHS health attachés are Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. HHS, Office of Global
Affairs, accessed April 27, 2020.
164 DHS, “Joint Statement on U.S.-Mexico Joint Initiative to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic,” March 20, 2020.
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United States, Canada, and Mexico have had difficulty balancing U.S. supply chain continuity
(including for DOD) with differences in essential business determinations between countries.165
Another potential bilateral organization that thus far has not publicly played a large role in
COVID-19 response is the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission. Established in 2000, this
binational commission receives funding from HHS to finance state and local projects that focus
on one of the five objectives of its Healthy Border 2020 plan. One of those objectives is to
address infectious diseases.166 Legislation was introduced, H.R. 6070, the Border Health Security
Act of 2020, that would have strengthened the border health commission and provided at least
$10.5 mil ion annual y for grants for border communities to improve disease surveil ance and
response efforts, among other actions.
U.S.-Mexican relations are likely to be tested in 2021 by ongoing security chal enges and recent
tension in security cooperation, as wel as by serious economic and health chal enges brought on
by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most experts maintain the best way for both countries to weather
these chal enges is to continue working together and with Canada to ensure the best possible
outcomes for North America, particularly as related to the USMCA’s entry into force. Despite
predictions to the contrary, Presidents Trump and López Obrador maintained relatively positive
relations, as evidenced during a White House meeting in July 2020. Although many observers
criticized President López Obrador for being one of the last world leaders to congratulate
President-elect Biden on his victory, the two leaders had a cordial telephone conversation in
December 2020. Biden reportedly expressed a desire to focus bilateral efforts to guarantee “safe
and orderly migration, contain COVID-19, revitalize the economies of North America, and secure
our common border.”167 The two leaders also discussed a shared desire to address the root causes
of migration from the Northern Triangle. It is yet unclear how the López Obrador administration
will respond if the Biden Administration also focuses on climate and clean energy issues, human
rights, and anti-corruption efforts, three topics that figured prominently under President Obama.
Congress is likely to maintain significant interest in Mexico, with trade, security, migration,
health, and environmental issues as probable areas of funding and oversight efforts.

165 Adam Behsudi, “Mexico’s Covid-19 Response T hreatening North American Supply Chains,” Politico, April 24,
166 HHS, Office of Global Health Affairs, “ U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission Activities.”
167 Biden-Harris T ransition, “ Readout of President-elect Joe Biden’s Call with President Andrés Manuel López
Obrador,” December 19, 2020.
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Appendix. Mérida Initiative Funding
Table A-1. Estimated Mérida Initiative Funding: FY2008-FY2021
$ in mil ions
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.
Not app.

Sources: U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget office, November 3, 2016; U.S.
Department of State, November 18, 2016; P.L. 115-141; P.L. 116-6; U.S. Department of State, Congressional
Budget Justification for Foreign Operations, FY2020, FY2021;
Explanatory statement accompanying P.L. 116-94;
Explanatory statement accompanying P.L. 116-260.
Notes: ESF = Economic Support Fund; INCLE = International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; FMF =
Foreign Military Financing. FY2008-FY2010 included supplemental funding.
a. For FY2017, Mérida programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
were funded through the Development Assistance account rather than ESF.
b. Of the $45 mil ion in funds appropriated for ESF, some $6 mil ion supported non -Mérida Initiative programs.
c. Of the $45 mil ion in funds appropriated for ESF, some $6 mil ion supported non-Mérida Initiative programs.
d. Of the $50 mil ion in funds appropriated for ESF, an estimated $13 mil ion wil be used to support non -
Mérida Initiative programs focused on clean energy and sustainable landscapes. USAID, CN #71, December
16, 2020.
e. Congress appropriated $50 mil ion in ESF for Mexico in FIND, but USAID has yet to notify Congress on
how much of those funds wil support Mérida Initiative programs.

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Mexico: Background and U.S. Relations

Author Information

Clare Ribando Seelke

Specialist in Latin American Affairs

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
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