Sovereignty: Washington or Mexico City?

By William R. Hawkins l April 27, 2009


Texas Governor Rick Perry has been much in the news recently proclaiming the “sovereignty” of his state against the claims of the national government in Washington, DC. Yet, his record in office raises questions about whether he knows what the term “sovereignty” actually means. He has repeatedly put out the welcome mat for foreign interests who do not have the welfare of Texans or other Americans at heart.

On April 9, Perry proclaimed his support for a state legislative resolution meant to reaffirm state’s rights as guaranteed under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 10th Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Perry argued, “I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state.”

Sovereignty is about borders and who exercises supreme authority within them. Although Perry’s recent rhetoric has emphasized the Texas border with regard to Washington’s authority, his record is one of trying to erase the Texas portion of the U.S. border with Mexico.

Perry hosted the 2006 Border Governors Conference in Austin, which included leaders from the Mexican states as well as the U.S. The top Mexican agenda item was keeping the border open for unlimited immigration northward, and for giving legal status to the “undocumented” aliens who had already crossed into the United States illegally. The four U.S. governors at the time: Rick Perry (TX-R), Bill Richardson (NM-D), Janet Napolitano (AZ-D), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA-R) sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging “real action to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures the border, protects taxpayers, and restores the rule of law by practically dealing with the estimated 12 million immigrants currently in our country.”

The last phrase about “practicality” was code for granting amnesty to illegal aliens, as provided in the then-pending U.S. Senate bill, an action that would have made a mockery of the rule of law and border security. It would also have placed even heavier burdens on taxpayers to shoulder the costs of social services provided to poor immigrants, whose status would be upgraded. Robert Rector, who has researched this issue in depth for the Heritage Foundation, called the “open border” immigration policy a plan for “importing poverty.” Cheap labor does not pay for itself; it is subsidized by the taxpayer. Yet, as Perry told the 2004 Border Governors Conference: “As Governor of Texas, I welcome the contributions of millions of Mexican workers who are making a better way for their families in Mexico while building our economy in Texas.”

The 2008 Border Governors Conference was held in Hollywood, California, and again Mexican interests drove the outcome. Action was called for on a dozen topics. Drug smuggling into the United States was not one of them. The top priority in the Border Security section was given to “gunrunning” — the claim by Mexico that the main source of violence south of the border is American firearms used by Mexican drug gangs threatening the government. On February 25, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder used this argument to justify his call for the reinstatement of the so-called “assault weapons ban,” which expired in 2004 after being on the books for ten years. Holder’s remarks were seen by defenders of the Second Amendment as the first step in expanding laws that would deny Americans their Constitutional right to own guns. The public backlash against Holder’s proposal prompted President Barack Obama to reject it.

The source of violence in Mexico, as well as in the U.S., is the movement of drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border. What keeps the border “open” is the desire to integrate the North American economy. Illegal aliens move the drugs, and there is no will to stop the influx of “cheap” labor desired by unscrupulous business groups. Even inspection of Mexican trucks coming across the border is opposed because they are seen as slowing the pace of commerce.

In a February 24 speech in El Paso, Perry disingenuously stated that “more than $143 billion in goods crossed the border in our direction. That’s 43 percent of everything we imported and a 10% bump over the year before. So our relationship is strong and getting stronger. That is why we need to direct our energies into partnering with Mexico on security issues, not pointing fingers.” But the fact of the matter is quite different. The U.S. ran a trade deficit with Mexico last year of $64.4 billion. In 1993, when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed, the U.S. ran a trade surplus of $1.6 billion with Mexico.

The public argument for NAFTA was that it would open Mexico to more U.S. exports and create American jobs. However, since the Mexican economy is only five percent the size of the American economy, the export opportunities are limited by the lack of purchasing power. The real aim of the NAFTA lobby was to combine Mexican labor with American capital. C. Fred Bergsten and Jeffrey Schott, of the Institute for International Economics, told the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade on September 11, 1997: “the United States sought to increase its imports from Mexico as a result of NAFTA. In particular, we wanted to shift imports from other countries to Mexico—since our imports from Mexico include more U.S. content and because Mexico spends much more of its export earnings on imports from the United States than do, say, the East Asian countries.”

Other countries have also taken advantage of Mexico as an access point into the American market, further eroding U.S.-based manufacturing. Mexico runs a surplus with the U.S., but a deficit with the European Union, meaning it uses export earning from America to buy goods made in Europe.

The reality of 15 years of negative NAFTA trade has not lessened the desire of politicians like Perry to move even more goods out of Mexico northward into the American heartland. Perry has focused on building transportation systems to keep Texas as the “gateway” for Mexican exports. He has championed the “right” granted under NAFTA for Mexican trucks to have free range over the entire U.S. road network.

Opening the U.S. highway system to Mexican trucks has been in dispute since 1995 when President Bill Clinton, who signed NAFTA into law, put restrictions on access for reasons of safety. U.S. Department of Transportation regulations require all Mexican trucks that cross the border to reload their cargos into U.S. trucks for further movement. Congress blocked a trial program to open the border by denying funding in the 2009 budget. Not all Mexican trucks are fully inspected at the border, but since none can go further than 20 miles into the U.S., the ability of Mexican smugglers to penetrate very far into America has been limited. After NAFTA was signed, many Mexican drug gangs gained control of Mexican trucking companies and are anxious to move forward.

Business lobbyists neglect the security angle on the truck restrictions, concentrating instead on attacking the Teamsters and independent American truckers who do not want their jobs taken away by “cheap” Mexican drivers and rigs. The concern of American drivers and trucking companies is legitimate, and reinforces the point about which way the bulk of the trade is flowing. There is no market for American truckers to service Mexico. So when Perry opposes Washington’s restrictions on Mexican trucks, he is not furthering the interests of his countrymen, only his romance with Mexico.

The April 16 talks between President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon did not resolve the truck issue. The problem at the border is not just the trucks, but what is in the trucks. Trucks coming from Mexican factories that had replaced U.S. plants were bad enough, but today the trend is for goods crossing the border to have originated in Chinese factories. Trucks and trains are picking up cargo from Mexican ports for shipment to destinations like the Kansas City, Missouri “Smartport” which foresees, “the economies of the Far East ramp up production to meet our demand for goods, the pace of international trade will exceed the ability of major West Coast ports” in California. A map on the Smartport website is titled “two worlds, one route” and it has all the arrows running from Asia to America, with no mention of U.S. exports heading back the other way.

Mexican ports are being expanded, in some cases with Chinese money, and U.S. highways are being improved and constructed, like Perry’s pet Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) project, to aid Beijing’s exports which are decimating production and jobs in both Mexico and America.

And to add insult to injury, under Gov. Perry, work on the TTC has been awarded to a Spanish infrastructure company, Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte. Plans to build tolled trade corridors, one section at a time, expands the problem of eminent domain abuse, as never before. Historically, eminent domain has become a traditional method of building roads, freeways and America’s Interstate Highway System. However, these were roads for public use. Arguably, the ever-increasing state and federal government-sanctioned-taxpayer-financed building, maintenance and management of toll roads by multi-national development consortiums for periods exceeding 45 years and generally 50, 75 and 99 years constitutes “constructive ownership.”

So what does Perry’s concept of “sovereignty” amount to once stripped of its overheated rhetoric? It is a policy of opening Texas to foreign influence, making the state little more than a doormat for the invasion of America. Actions speak louder than words, and these actions have been harmful to the true sovereignty of the United States.

William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.