Proposal: a new bilateral worker agreement between U.S. and Mexico

The Center for Global Development called on September 13 for a creation of a new bilateral worker agreement between Mexico and the United States. Co-chairs of the Working Group that produced the proposal, Shared Border, Shared Future are Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Secretary of Commerce 2005 – 2009 and Ernesto Zedillo, President of Mexico, 1994 – 2000.

The report authors argue that a circular flow of Mexican workers across the border has been a feature for some 150 years, makes economic sense for the labor markets for both countries, and workers can be better off for it, provided effective measures to control exploitation. Since 1964, with the termination of the so-called Bracero program, the black market has naturally grown. The authors estimate that without a bilateral agreement, 100,000 illegal entries into the U.S. will persist. Border crackdowns in the 1990s interrupted the return flow.

They write that low skilled Mexican workers in the U.S, are mostly complementary to, and not competitive with, native-born workers. The authors cite several flaws with the Bracero program and/or current temporary worker programs in which low wage Mexican workers participate (mainly the H-2A visa):

  • Labor organizations not involved in design
  • Employment tied to single employer
  • No effective way to complain about labor violations
  • Arbitrary restriction to certain employment sectors (to favor American corporate farms)
  • Arbitrary and rigid numbers of visas.

Their recommended program includes oversight by a bilateral labor market commission, better job matching data, employer fees to obtain workers, protections to ensure that native-born worker wages are not undercut, and better controls and incentives to ensure return to Mexico. The report includes model legislative language.

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