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Opinion Margarita Zavala: Will Americans let Trump destroy U.S.-Mexico relations?

Margarita Zavala, a leading presidential hopeful in Mexico, speaks on issues affecting Mexicans and the U.S.-Mexico relationship. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Margarita Zavala is a former congresswoman and first lady of Mexico and is a contender for the Mexican presidency in 2018.

Almost two months into the Trump administration, the United States has a choice. Does it want to continue a strong partnership with Mexico? Or will it throw away years of a successful, peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship due to the ignorance of its president? Normally this would not even be a question. But these are not normal times. When the American president can undo with a tweet what has taken us decades to build, Mexicans have to wonder whether the United States is a reliable partner and what the future of our relationship will look like.

President Trump insists on framing U.S.-Mexico relations in simplistic and disrespectful terms. In his view, it is a zero-sum game, with Mexicans “taking advantage” of their northern neighbors. He fixates on the border and talks about Mexico as if it were a war zone, a threat from which the United States needs to wall itself off. Yet despite the sensationalist picture he paints, the U.S.-Mexico border has never been more secure. Net Mexican migration to the U.S. is negative, and not a single terrorist act has been committed in the United States by someone who crossed the Mexican border. As a historical ally, we have worked with both our southern and northern neighbors to ensure border security. The notion that criminals are streaming across the U.S. border is a fallacy put forth to win votes. Trump’s order to build a wall is offensive: a ludicrous solution to a nonproblem.

Frankly, the United States is fortunate to have Mexico as a neighbor and partner. We are a peaceful, democratic, cooperative country with one of the largest economies in the world. We are eternally bound together by geography, by trade, by family, by culture and by affinity.

We collaborate with the U.S. on everything from commerce to combating drug trafficking to the environment to counterterrorism. Just a few examples: Mexican engineers in Querétaro design jet engines for General Electric that are then built by workers in Ohio. Mexican officials helped thwart a plot by Iranian agents to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The largest attendance for an NFL game ever was in Mexico (Cowboys vs. Oilers), home to 23 million NFL fans, myself included. Nearly 2 million U.S. citizens live in Mexico (the largest community of U.S. expats in the world). We work together in every area imaginable, and we are both the richer for it.

The U.S. and Mexican economies are complementary. We do not compete with each other; we make each other more competitive in the global market. Mexico is the second-largest destination for U.S. exports and the single largest destination for exports from California, Arizona and Texas. We buy more American goods than Japan, Germany and the U.K. do combined. Fourteen million Mexican tourists came to the United States in 2015 and spent around $10 billion. The retail economies of Texas cities such as McAllen and Houston would suffer near-failure in the absence of Mexican consumers. Our bilateral partnership is not predicated on one side losing and the other side winning: Our economies are so integrated that each is weaker without the other.

Most Americans know that Mexican immigrants are not violent criminals. They know that they are brave and hard-working and make enormous contributions to the U.S. economy. They know that without Mexican immigrants, the U.S. agriculture, construction and restaurant industries would simply collapse. Mexicans know that our differences are not with the American people, but with an American president who began his campaign with racist attacks against Mexican immigrants, whose cruel policies have entire communities living in fear, and who seems intent on making an enemy out of a friend.

I have met U.S. presidents from both political parties, and I know that the American dream has much in common with the Mexican one. Mexicans believe in the strength of the family, the dignity conferred by hard work and the worth inherent in every human being. Mexico would much rather be a partner to the United States than an adversary. We would rather tend bridges than build walls. But our alliance must be based on mutual respect. We will not accept a relationship based on threats and insults, contempt for our country and cruelty toward our citizens. The United States is more prosperous, more secure, and more competitive for having Mexico as its partner. It is up to the United States to decide whether it wants to continue a strong partnership, or whether it will let one bad hombre destroy it.