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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs > Releases > Remarks, Testimony > 2003

Press Briefing: Results of U.S. - Mexico Binational Commission

Antonio O. Garza, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Mexico
Washington, DC
November 13, 2003

(11:05 a.m. EST)

MR. CASEY: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the State Department, glad to have you all here today. I would like to present our guest and special briefer this afternoon, Ambassador Tony Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, who's here to talk to you today about the results of yesterday's U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission.

Ambassador Garza.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: All right, great. Let me -- let me just start by thanking you all for being here and share a few general impressions about the 20th Annual Binational Commission meetings that concluded yesterday afternoon. As many of you know, you've had the opportunity to observe the meetings.

There were 14 working groups and a number of cabinet secretaries from both the United States and Mexico covering a broad range of issues. There were many opportunities to discuss not only where we are to date, but to cover, really, the progress of the past year on counterterrorism, homeland security, law enforcement. There were a couple of agreements, with respect to homeland security and counterterrorism, and particularly the establishment of a hotline between -- you can almost mouth it along -- yeah, the hotline between Secretaries Ridge and Creel.

Also, later in the afternoon, there was a Memorandum of Understanding between our Peace Corps and CONACYT, specifically, with respect to the opportunities to work more closely with Mexico in the information and technology and science area. That was an outgrowth of agreements that were reached in June, at the Partnership for Prosperity.

I think really what was -- what was important about yesterday's meeting, as have, I think, in years past, is an appreciation for the breadth of the relationship between the United States and Mexico. I am not absolutely sure of this fact, but I don't know of too many other countries -- in fact, I'm not sure there is another one -- where we have quite the binational framework that we've established between the United States and Mexico.

One of the things that I was struck by almost a year ago, when I assumed post, is that there are -- I can't think of an agency not represented in Mexico, and, certainly, having grown up along the border, appreciate the interface day in and day out of not only our State Department communities, but the Commerce and the EPA and the law enforcement communities; but, certainly, it's a large mission, it's a challenging mission.

I think one of the great things about the relationship is the maturity of it, the importance of it, and the fact that day in and day out there's a great deal of communication going on between our two countries. And I think, in some sense, it -- it suggests that these Binational Commission meetings are more assessments of the status of the relationship than they are opportunities for what I characterized as, "the homerun."

The homeruns have been hit in law enforcement day in and day out. And you've written the stories about the efforts ongoing, the communication that is going on in the area of homeland security and counterterrorism, the implementation of the 22-point plan announced in March of last year is ongoing, but these are good opportunities to bring focus to our efforts to have our bureaucracies interface.

And on a very practical level, when you have your cabinet secretaries getting together annually, it brings some real pressures, if you will, on their respective bureaucracies to bring more definition to what they're doing. And I think that's -- that's ultimately very healthy. Secretary Powell and Derbez had the opportunity yesterday post-Binational Commission to do a briefing. And I'm here simply to try to, perhaps, add a little insight or perspective from -- from my point of view, as somebody who is in Mexico day in and day out.

So I'll open with that and try to answer some of your questions today.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. I know we keep pestering you guys with this, but it's important. The fact that there were no concrete steps -- I know you said that it was an assessment opportunity -- but people are wanting to hear from both of your governments, from Mexico and the U.S., whether or not you will head towards an immigration agreement.

You have a lot of advocacy groups who are saying, "Hey, listen. You know, it's nice to talk the talk, but do the walk also." So what do you see happening in the next year or so?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, it -- I think it would be difficult for me to put a very specific timetable on it, but I think if you look at the -- certainly the past year -- that in the whole area of making our borders more secure, you've seen the implementation of the 22-point plan. You've seen the integration of technology, both in terms of the movement of people and goods, trying to allow for more efficient flow of people and goods so that we can focus our resources on those that might come into our country to harm.

Conversely, Mexico has worked very closely with us in terms of securing their southern border and the exchange of information. I say this because it's an important fact in terms of addressing American concerns about Homeland Security, and it helps create an environment, I believe, in Congress, where we can return to more productive discussions and dialogue about migration reform, specifically with Mexico.

Both administrations, both in Mexico and in the United States, here President Bush remain committed to migration reform. The President has enunciated, I think, some very clear principles with respect to what should guide our reforms, that it be safe, legal, orderly, humane and sensitive to the market realities that we face. And to try to minimize the importance of this process, I think is misplaced; this is an important process.

Congress, I think, increasingly, you've seen any number of bills filed, both sides of the aisle represented, both in the House and the Senate, that have returned to a discussion about migration reform.

Secretary Powell yesterday talked about incremental steps, perhaps in, I think what he said was the not-too-distant future, and I think that's a fair assessment that we'll start to see more movement. But before you have that sort of movement, Congress is, I think, developing a capacity and a comfort level that the ongoing efforts between our two countries in homeland security and counterterrorism are real, and they are.

So it's difficult to put a timetable on it. I think there is increasingly a recognition of an urgency, and that's certainly the first step in, I think, building Congressional support for it, but certainly the Administration, I think, has laid out its principles very clearly, and certainly those are the principles that are going to guide that debate.

QUESTION: Yes, Ambassador, I wonder if you are aware of the apprehension in Tijuana of these polleros that was specialized in trafficking Arabs into the United States, and if you know about this. That was something that was big news in Mexico yesterday. But I wanted to know how worried is the U.S. Government about this because, I mean, it's not just undocumented Mexicans, but Arabs that are coming, you don't know, from which countries.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Without getting too much into the specifics of that, the whole role of the pollero in the process is something that is -- quite frankly, the way polleros prey on people is the most disgusting aspect of it, and I think it really is part of creating an environment that is risky for the people being transported.

In terms of the counterterrorism component of it, we have, for some time now, been working very closely with our Mexican counterparts, up to and including the sharing of information about individuals being transported. We're working on interfacing our databases more efficiently so that we can share information real-time about individuals that are apprehended, get some sense of what their intentions might be.

But that's really a part of -- I mean, there's two parts of it:

One is the initial apprehension, and that's something that we've worked very well with Mexico on, and it's part of our overall strategy in terms of securing the border -- not closing the border, but securing it, making it safer and allowing for the more efficient movement of people and goods.

The second aspect of that is, once you have apprehended individuals, the ability to transmit information readily about those individuals so we get some sense of what their intentions might be.

It's a good example of the sort of coordination that is important not only to the United States, but as importantly, to Mexico in terms of securing the Mexican homeland and assuring the safety of that country's citizens as well.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? You kind of steered away from part of -- of an important part of that. But I do remember when there were stories coming out about these Arab -- Arab smuggling, people-smuggling rings.

Didn't the U.S. say that that was exaggerated, to some extent? Do you really -- do you feel that there were -- I mean, after 9/11 do feel that there were organized smuggling rings just to get Arabs -- therefore suspect of being al-Qaida type people, into the U.S. from Mexico?

There were a lot of stories about that, and I remember them somehow being discounted, to some extent, when that -- when those came out.

AMBASSADOR GARZA:  Well, I don't remember them necessarily being discounted, nor would I want to comment on the level of organization. I think wherever you have the ability both to secure a border, apprehend individuals, and you have the capacity to assess the individuals in terms of their potential threat to our country, and we have that in place, that whether it was the product of an organized effort, whether it were one individual, ten individuals or any number of individuals, that we have a responsibility, to the extent that our technology and relationship will allow us, to assess what kind of threat those individuals pose.

So whether you want to characterize it as exaggerated or organized is almost beside the point. The point is, if you had the capacity to secure the border and assess the threat level of the individuals being transported, I think you have a responsibility to do that.

QUESTION: But having the problem was -- was the smuggling in of potential al-Qaida members specifically.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: That would be very difficult for me to assess, in the sense that, again, going back to my response, I mean, I think if we have the ability to secure the border, to enforce our laws, and then assess the threat level of the individuals apprehended, and we have that, that that's something that we should be doing. Whether it's one or ten or larger is almost beside the point, one person can do serious harm.

And so, therefore, I think this ongoing coordination between our two countries, quite independent of perceived volume is important that when we're apprehending, whether it be Mexico on its southern border, us on Mexico's northern border, we have a responsibility to assess. We have a relationship that now allows us to exchange information comfortably, and we should be doing that. We owe that to the citizens of both our countries.

QUESTION: If you could follow up on your initial remarks about the relationship. I'm sure you hear this a lot. But in the beginning of this Administration, and also even when President Fox came in, there was a kind of feeling that this was a real renaissance in the U.S.-Mexico relationship, a lot of promise that these two countries were going to do a lot of work together in the hemisphere. There's been a lot of water under the bridge between then, not just on 9/11, but with Iraq there was some feeling that perhaps Mexico's opposition to the war was a little bit of sour grapes over the lack of progress of migration.

Can you talk about whether you feel as if the U.S. and Mexico have really now, as the Secretary said, when he said move past 9/11 on the other side, are you really on the other side of the bridge and moving -- turning a new corner in the relationship?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, in one sense, yes. And I think certainly our two presidents enjoy, I think, a good relationship, and one that is based largely on respect and an appreciation for the importance of this relationship and how integrated it is.

In another sense, I think yesterday's Binational Commissions were a good indicator of how institutionalized our relationships really are. Even back in what some would characterize as the most difficult period, back in February/March when President Bush expressed his disappointment, our institutions continued to interface. We have had, in terms of the day-to-day efforts with respect to counterterrorism, no better ally than Mexico.

If you look at the law enforcement efforts and the apprehension of major drug traffickers, they're way up. Numbers of extradition, albeit, some remain difficult and contentious, those numbers are up. The institutions continue to function, I think, very effectively, our ability to coordinate on the day-to-day -- and in today's world, the day-to-day is actually quite major -- I think is a healthy sign of the maturity of the relationship and the integration of the relationship.

So I think the perception was, somehow, that there was this break. The reality is that we never stopped working together well on issues that were important to the United States and Mexico. And so I think Iraq is certainly behind us. Mexico was very supportive of the last resolution at the UN, and in that sense, I think we've, we've, -- as we like to say in Texas -- moved down the road.

But what as important to me, day in and day out, was to see our institutions never breach, in terms of their responsibility, to continue working on issues that were important to both the United States and Mexico.


QUESTION: Yeah. Going back to this securing the border issue, at some point there was discussion -- I mean the U.S. position seemed to be, "Let us first secure the border, then let's talk about migration." And yesterday Secretary of State Powell sort of seemed to indicate that now we're moving beyond that.

I'd really like to understand clearly, is the border now considered secure? And if not, sort of, what remains to be done so that that border is eventually considered secure and maybe things can move along then on the immigration reform?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: The -- I think the border is, is certainly more secure. If you looked at any number of the proposals under the 22-point plan, which you saw was the integration of technology -- whether it was in passenger information systems; whether it was in the ability to x-ray cargo, the ability to do off-site inspections, the ability to integrate some level of pre-clearance into sentry lanes and fast lanes.

Those of us that -- just as a sidebar -- those of us that grew up along the border think much of this overdue in terms of investments in technology to allow for the more efficient movement of low-risk people and goods. So I think we've established several templates that can now be replicated in other ports of entry.

To that extent, it allows you to then allocate your resources to what would be your higher-risk movement of people and goods; and I think that's an important part of what we're doing. What that does vis--vis migration, I think, is give Americans a little more comfort in terms of what we're doing at the border, in terms of the coordination of our efforts. And when you start to develop a comfort level that your security is being addressed, I think it creates a capacity for a discussion about migration.

Now, security, efficiency, resources at the border -- that is not the sort of thing that you can just close the book on. It's something that has to be ongoing. If you look at the volumes that we do at the border and the volume of trade, the likelihood of that increasing is very high. I mean we want to see expanded trade.

We'll continue to see movements of people, so I don't think you can simply put a period on that and say, "That's been done." I think it's something that we have to continue to work on, and that helps build the capacity or the comfort level for Americans that were addressing some of those issues so that we can start to have a constructive migration dialogue.

Let me go here, and then I'll come back.

QUESTION: In terms of the relation, for U.S. and Ambassador of the United States in Mexico, how difficult it is to deal with this thing that's made about Adolfo Aguilar Zinser?

I know the answer by the Secretary Powell. But how difficult is it for you to deal with the Mexican authorities, what Adolfo says in Mexico, in New York, everywhere? How difficult is for you to make your job?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, it really hasn't impacted my job in the sense that we appreciate, in the United States, how important this relationship is. We recognize the breadth of it, not only historically, culturally -- and we recognize that this is a relationship that will always be important to the United States. And I find that same attitude in the people that I deal with day in and day out, leadership across all levels, both governmental and nongovernmental.

I think there's an appreciation for the nature of the relationship between the United States, the uniqueness of the time that we're in. The last ten years have brought what in Mexico is characterized as a convergence, and here we use the word "integration" of not only our economies, but our peoples and the changing demographic in the United States; this is an important relationship and I don't think there's any way you could say otherwise.

So in terms of the people I deal with day in and day out, it's something that we all value, we all realize is important, so in a sense it's had no practical impact on my dealings with people in Mexico.

QUESTION: So you don't call the President of Mexico when Adolfo says something that is not in the same line of the Foreign Minister of Mexico?


QUESTION: So who believes you more, the Foreign Minister or the Ambassador or the UN?


QUESTION: Who is the guy who the U.S. Government believes in, the Foreign Minister or the Ambassador?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, I think this is an Administration that speaks through its President on the executive, and certainly there are many voices in Mexico, and that's something that we appreciate and value in the United States, the notion that you're going to have disparate opinions out there. When you see the debate in your Congress or our Congress, you recognize that there are going to be many points of view.

But I'll return to the point I made a second ago, in terms of the day in and day out addressing issues, having discussions about the nature of the relationship, I find that people on both sides of the border take this seriously. They appreciate the importance of it, and they have made a commitment to doing everything we can to make it better.

That doesn't mean we're not going to occasionally disagree, but I think as long as we share the objective that we're serving people in our respective countries, and we're all better off, if you will, if we continue to communicate and work towards something positive, I think -- and that's the attitude I bring to the job every day, and I find that that's the attitude people I deal with bring every day.

QUESTION: All right, Antonio.

QUESTION: There are a lot of trade issues on the bilateral agenda that have created certain frictions. I wonder if you can -- I know that this time around, this Binational did not address many of those issues because they are being addressed --

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Another forum.

QUESTION: -- separately with Zoellick and that base in Canales, and so forth.

I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about, if you're hopeful that some of them will be -- solve, specifically, the issue of sugar, which I believe President Bush -- I mean, President Fox last week sent a bill to Congress in Mexico to lift the tax which has created a lot of tensions with Grassley and other people in the Senate, and if you would characterize some of these trade issues as one of the main irritants that you still have in the relationship right now.

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, I don't know that I would use the word "irritant." I think when you look at the last ten years and you've seen trade triple, I believe from around 80 billion in terms of two-way trade, to about 238 -- maybe almost -- very close to $250 billion, you recognize that when you have that sort of increase in a relatively short period of time you're going to have some bumps along the road.

You bet I'd like to see some of these issues taken off the table and resolved, but I recognize that it's all part of the process. And the fact that they were not part of the Binational Commission meetings I think suggest how the institutions that have grown up around the resolutions of trade issues have matured. You now have a forum where those issues can be addressed. You now have a trade office that is working aggressively representing the United States' interest. You have trade representatives on the Mexican side working aggressively to represent those interests.

And that, again, speaks to the maturity of the relationship and how far we've come in terms of trade and the ability to address these issues. When trade triples over a short period of time, you're going to have some bumps and you're going to have some contentious issues on specific commodities. But when you have the institutions that are committed to addressing them and individuals acting in good faith, you'll get through those bumps.

And we'd all like to see more trade because we recognize that when we're moving goods, it means people are producing them, people are working, people are having the opportunity to share in some of the prosperity of NAFTA. And that's ultimately healthy, and it's our responsibility to address these issues so that more people can share in the prosperity of NAFTA and trade.

QUESTION: On the issue of the new book that just came out, Ambassador Davidow, he says that --

AMBASSADOR GARZA: He was the bear, right?


QUESTION: Right. Yeah, supposedly. No, but you have already been in Mexico for like almost a year. I think November 20th or something, you will have a year there. And in this book, he realizes a sense of his experiences that some of the nationalism in Mexico has traditionally been an obstacle to a better relationship.

And I was wondering if you can share your experience; if you feel that that nationalism sometimes turning to anti-Americanism, is really a problem in the relationship, or do you disagree with Ambassador Davidow in that -- on that respect?

AMBASSADOR GARZA: Well, I haven't yet read the book, and I have a great deal of respect for Jeff. I think he's a great guy and he has been very generous in terms of his time and insights with me.

I think I perhaps view the relationship a bit differently. And I think it should be no surprise that all of us are, you know, a product of our own experiences and our own perspective. And I tell people, not all together tongue-in-cheekly, that having grown up in Brownsville, you grew up at least with a good part of you in Matamoros, which is our sister city.

And so, I don't really view things from the perspective of nationalist or not. I tend to be, I think, a lot more practical -- have open and honest and constructive dialogues with people about the issue at hand, keep those lines open, keep working toward an objective of resolution -- and things will come out of that. So I tend not to impute any sort of broad ideology to the individual that I'm dealing with on a specific issue. And by staying focused on a specific issue and keeping that communication open, I think you can get some things done.

So I don't impute any broad sort of nationalistic impulse to the individual I'm working with. I stay focused on an issue, and I think that's been helpful. There's nothing wrong with being proud of your country though, and I think that's -- if that's what nationalism is, well, that's okay.

There's every reason, I think, for us in this country to be proud of the United States, and every reason for Mexicans to be proud of Mexico. So I'm -- I don't, you know, I can't comment too much, but I don't see that day in and day out. I see people committed to a better relationship and working hard to get there.

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