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Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together by Andrew Selee, PublicAffairs, US $28.00  Pp 324  June 2018   ISBN 978-1610398596

Twenty years ago, The New York Times journalist Alan Riding wrote a book titled Distant Neighbors to explain how the United States and Mexico are different but could still live side by side and yet barely interact with each other. Trade, immigration and the growth of border communities had not transformed the relationship. People on both sides of the border knew little about those on the other side, and the economies and societies were, in most cases, quite distant from the other. In Vanishing Frontiers, Andrew Selee argues that the reality on the ground is transforming more than two decades of rapid change. The United States and Mexico are increasingly integrated and interdependent, far more than most people on both sides of the border could ever have imagined twenty years ago — or perhaps most people realize even now. Today, we are not distant neighbors but intimate strangers, deeply connected to each other yet with few of the tools we need to understand our growing intimacy.

Two days after being sworn in as president of the United States Donald Trump announced that he would either renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from it entirely. Three days later he signed an executive order to begin construction of a wall with Mexico. He also signed another executive order mandating that the Department of Homeland Security expedite its activities to detain and deport unauthorized immigrants. Andrew Selee says that, after two decades of growing ties between the United States and Mexico, the official policy of the US government is to cut back on those ties and begin to separate the two countries off from each other — both literally and figuratively. As President Trump started building the wall, Andrew Selee argues that the forces driving them together continue at full pace, giving new ways to engage with each other.

Andrew Selee says that as President Trump was signing his executive orders, the soccer federations in the United States, Canada, and Mexico were negotiating a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup, and they eventually announced it in April. This marks the first time sports federations in the three NAFTA countries try to hold a joint region-wide sporting event, and it seems almost certain to succeed. While they talked about building a wall across the border, the airport bridge that connects San Diego and Tijuana – and crosses over the existing wall – was completing its first year of operation, bringing the two cities closer together. It had been used 1.3 million times, far more than anyone had predicted at the outset, and was on target for 2 million crossings in 2017. The bridge has become both a real and a metaphorical anchor trying the two halves of this growing metropolitan region.

More and more of the products Americans depend on are made by Mexican companies in the United States using American workers. Andrew Selee says that these include not only bread, tortillas, and potato chips but also hot dogs, lunch meat, milk, and yogurt. The Mexican companies also provide much of the cement and nails that anchor our buildings, the cell coverage that connects us, and the commercial ports that bring goods into the country. Trade between the United States and Mexico continues to boom. So too did the joint production of cars and other heavy machinery, which had reached an all-time high in 2016 and continues to expand. Andrew Selee says that these companies, which hire American workers to produce goods in the United States, dominate or are among the top two players in each of these industries, but this trend has been almost completely ignored.

Vanishing Frontiers is a nuanced contribution to an overheated discussion on a key foreign policy question of our times. Andrew Selee convincingly shows that the forces of integration are more powerful than those who want to stop the integration of the NAFTA region. He shows that the economies of the United States and Mexico are fast becoming irretrievably integrated. Vanishing Frontiers is meticulously-researched and a very important addition to the existing literature on the NAFTA region. It is a must-read for all those interested in the US foreign and economic policies as well as NAFTA region.

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