Many conservatives in the United States like to channel Ronald Reagan as the image of the “America First” doctrine and true U.S.-centric conservatism. This narrative is part of the fiction that is driving today’s far right-wing conservatism that put Donald Trump into office. The problem, though, is that it is all based on a lie. You see, Ronald Reagan dreamed of a future where Canada, México and the United States not only shared a common market to challenge the rest of the world but also open borders between all three countries. Yup, that’s right, Ronald Reagan wanted open borders between México and the United States.

When NAFTA comes up in conservative circles, the false narrative is that it was the Democrats that destroyed U.S. jobs by imposing NAFTA on the country. They love to point to Bill Clinton signing NAFTA into law. Yet, the inconvenient fact about NAFTA is that it was Ronald Reagan’s dream and was substantially negotiated by George H. W. Bush on the U.S. side. Bush, for those that believe in the distorted reality is a staunch Republican, like Reagan.

On January 5, 1981, then president-elect Ronald Reagan met with Mexican president José López Portillo. Jimmy Carter had kept the relationship between Canada and México with the United States friendly, but distant. Reagan, on the other hand, opened his presidential ambitions in November 13, 1979 by announcing that he wanted a “North American accord”. During his presidential announcement speech, Reagan stated that he wanted in North America an atmosphere where “peoples and commerce of its three strong countries flow more freely across their present borders than they do today.”

His words, not mine.

Reagan’s quest was to have open borders between Canada, México and the United States.

Interestingly and forgotten by most, it was Canada’s Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau and Mexican president José López Portillo that expressed fear in Reagan’s bold move. Both leaders felt that their economies would be overwhelmed by the giant economy of the United States. Reagan persisted, although he acknowledged that the true flow of commerce and people may take “100 years” to accomplish.

The truth is that Reagan wasn’t looking out for Canada, or México. It was the height of the Cold War and the United States and its allies were looking to strengthen their energy resources against Soviet influence in the Middle East.

The investment bank; Blyth, Eastman, Dillon & Co. issued a report in 1979 arguing for a North American Common Market to give the United States access to Mexican oil. It created panic in México because the initiative was seen as an attempt to take control of México’s oil reserves.

In Monday’s post, we will explore deeper the Blyth, Eastman, Dillon & Co. report and how it relates to today’s ongoing conflict between the government of México and the Donald Trump’s administration.

For now, let us focus on the important issue of Ronald Reagan’s vision for open borders.

The narrative today is that the Democrats imposed NAFTA on the United States and they are to blame for the lost jobs and immigration issues facing the country today.

But the fact is that the Democrats fought NAFTA every step of the way. The base of the Democrats, the trade unions, wanted nothing to do with competing against Mexican labor. It is true that Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law, but he did so reluctantly. The fact remains that NAFTA was negotiated and implemented by the Republicans.

Had the Republicans had their way, it is very likely that today we would have open borders between Canada, México and the United States. It was the Democrats and their union base that kept the open border debate out of the negotiations because of the fear of competing against Mexican labor.

Think about open borders as you prepare for my report on Monday. Some of you will likely be shocked to see what the Republicans were after and what they were promising to get it. Of course, there was always the threat of the United States invading México again to get what it wanted.

Enjoy your Easter Holiday!

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

3 replies on “Ronald Reagan and Open Borders”

  1. True. The reality was it was also a reaction to the formation of the EU as a trading bloc.

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