Engel Opening Remarks at Hearing on U.S.-Mexico Relations

WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following statement during a Committee hearing on the state of relations between the United States and Mexico:

“Chairman Royce, I’d like to begin by thanking you for holding today’s hearing.  I have been focused on the importance of U.S.–Mexico relations for many years, and I appreciate your willingness to bring this issue before the Committee.

“Once characterized by mutual mistrust, U.S.–Mexico relations are now stronger than ever.  I am pleased that the Obama Administration has prioritized our partnership with Mexico from the very start, and I’m happy to see that Secretary Kerry is continuing our high level engagement with his trip there tomorrow.

“Today, our two economies are tied more closely together than ever before.  Mexico is the second-largest destination for U.S. exports and the third-largest source of imports.  Six million American jobs rely on commerce with our southern neighbor. 

“The impact of our economic partnership can be felt in every part of our nation.  In 2013, Mexico was the eighth largest market for exports from my home state of New York with $2.2 billion of goods exported from New York to Mexico.

“I continue to be impressed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.  Since taking office in December 2012, he has worked across party lines to pass historic political and economic reforms, particularly in the country’s energy sector.  As a result of Mexico’s reforms, Moody’s upgraded its credit rating to investment grade in February.  This makes Mexico the only Latin American country other than Chile to obtain this rating.

“I’m also very pleased that the Mexican Congress recently passed a law that will enable civilian courts to try cases involving alleged human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians.  Previously, these cases were tried in military courts.

“Let me also say that the new measures to protect human rights—to protect human rights—to protect their advocates and journalists represent an important step forward.  This is a real challenge, and Mexico remains a dangerous place for those working to shine a light on abuses, corruption, and crime.  I urge the Mexican government to speed up its implementation of these measures.  I also urge the State Department to provide direct funding for this effort to help build a safe environment for these men and women doing such important work.

“As our witnesses know, I have been a supporter of the Merida Initiative since its inception.  But, I have also made clear that we have certain domestic obligations under the Merida Initiative that demand greater U.S. attention:

“Firstly, we must do much more to stop the illegal flow of firearms from the United States to Mexico.  In 2009, the Government Accountability Office released a report that I commissioned on this issue. It showed that 87 percent of the firearms Mexican authorities seized and traced between FY 2004 and FY 2008 originated in the United States. Today, I am sending a letter to the GAO requesting a follow up report reviewing U.S. efforts to combat firearms trafficking to Mexico.

“Secondly, the enormous U.S. demand for illegal drugs fuels violence in Mexico.  In 2012, there were approximately 24 million illicit drug users in the United States.  While I am pleased by the Obama Administration’s efforts to invest in drug prevention and treatment programs, we must continue to do more to stop illegal drug use in our country.

“Thirdly, we must do our part to cut off funding to transnational criminal organizations.  This means enforcing our anti-money laundering laws and cracking down on U.S. banks that turn a blind eye to money laundering.

“Without taking these steps, it will be very difficult to end the terrible violence in Mexico that has claimed more than 70,000 lives over the past seven years.

“Finally, I would like to emphasize how important it is to both of our countries for the House of Representatives to swiftly pass comprehensive immigration reform.  We need a new immigration system that opens the doors of opportunity and emphasizes human dignity.  Our diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths.  Throughout our history, immigrants have always been an indispensable part of the fabric of our society, and we know from the number of people reaching our shores every year that America remains a beacon of hope and opportunity around the world.  The time to fix our system is now, and we all know that if the Senate’s bill came to a vote on the House floor this afternoon, it would be on the President’s desk this evening.

“I’d like to close by thanking our witnesses for being here today and for their important work in ensuring that our U.S.–Mexico partnership remains strong. I know all of the witnesses, I am appreciative of their hard work and expertise, and I look forward to hearing from each of them today.  So thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. And thanks so much, once again, for working in such a bipartisan way.”