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The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies University of California, San Diego


A Tale of Two Borders: The U.S.-Mexico and U.S.Canada Lines After 9-11

By Peter Andreas
Brown University

Working Paper 77 May 2003

A Tale of Two Borders: the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada Lines After 9-11 Peter Andreas, Brown University

The conventional wisdom in recent years has been that“globalization” is about breaking down borders.1 Indeed, we are often told that growing economic integration and interdependence leads to a retreat of the regulatory state, more open borders, and more harmonious cross-border relations. Prominent free market advocates, such as the Wall Street Journal,2 have even pushed to make borders not only more meaningless for the flow of goods and money but alsofor people, giving substance to the upbeat business school rhetoric of an emerging “borderless world.”3 President Vicente Fox of Mexico epitomized this view at the regional level by entering office promoting a bold vision of an open U.S.-Mexico border, including the free movement of labor, and the creation of a North American community. Such a vision would further deepen an already welladvancedcontinental integration process: the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico borders are the two busiest land crossings in the world, with cross-border commercial flows accelerating sharply since the launching of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).4 Fox’s border-free vision of North America was one of the first casualties of the devastating terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon onSeptember 11th, 2001. In both political debates and policy practice, borders are very much back in style. Rather than simply being dismantled in the face of intensifying pressures of economic integration, border controls are being re-tooled and redesigned as part of a new and expanding “war on terrorism.” The immediate U.S. response to the terrorist attacks included a dramatic tightening of borderinspections and a toughening of the policy discourse about borders and cross-border flows. The political scramble to “do something” about leaky borders has slowed and complicated North American economic integration. Traditional border issues such as trade and migration are now inescapably evaluated through a security lens. Optimistic talk of opening borders has been replaced by more anxious andsomber talk about “security perimeters” and “homeland defense.” Not A version of this paper appears in Peter Andreas and Thomas Biersteker, eds. The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a New Security Context (New York: Routledge, 2003). 2 For years, the Wall Street Journal editorial page advocated a constitutional amendment calling for open borders. 3 This term was popularizedby the business consultant Kenichi Ohmae in The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in an International Economy, New York: Harper Business, 1990. After 9-11, Rosabeth Moss Kanter from the Harvard Business School commented that recent years have been “a time of tearing down walls, literally and figuratively. Now I fear we are reconstructing them.” Quoted in Boston Globe 10-3-01. 4 U.S.-Mexicotrade has more than tripled and U.S.-Canada trade has nearly doubled during the past decade. 1

surprisingly, politicians from across the political spectrum have been rushing to demonstrate their commitment to securing borders.5 At least for the time being, talking about open borders is considered politically impolite. Indeed, the voices for breaking down borders are not only muted but attackedand ostracized by their political opponents.6 Terrorism has predictably heightened the American public’s awareness of and fears about porous borders: According to a Zogby public opinion survey a few weeks after the terrorist attacks, 72 percent of those polled said better border controls and stricter enforcement of immigration laws would help prevent terrorism.7 In this paper I trace the...
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