The Cable

Mexico’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Trolls Trump Hard Over Travel Ban

Give me your start-ups, your coders, your tech-savvy masses.


President Donald Trump’s “America First” gambit and restrictive rules on immigration may drive away highly-skilled workers, particularly from the tech industry. One Mexican state is happy to offer them “sanctuary.”

“To our colleagues in U.S. tech companies who are adjusting to policy changes affecting your 85,000 foreign workers, the Mexican state of Jalisco hears you,” read a full-page ad in Politico magazine on Thursday. The state, to the west of Mexico City, is trolling Trump hard, and making the case for U.S.-based technology companies and entrepreneurs to move to what’s widely known (in Mexico at least) as “Mexico’s Silicon Valley.”

Where many see in Trump’s disastrous early steps to limit migration little to cheer about, Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval spies an opportunity, even if he’s worried about the longer term effects for bilateral relations.

In an interview with Foreign Policy, Sandoval called Trump “irresponsible,” “divisive,” and “xenophobic,” and said he’d welcome any tech or skilled immigrant workers forced to flee.

He said Trump’s policies would ultimately harm the U.S. economy and its relationship with Mexico, particularly with the uncertain fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that binds the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican economies together.

Now Sandoval’s angling to poach some talent with a potent cocktail of federal and state subsidies, education grants, and favorable migration policies to attract new skilled workers — pretty much the exact opposite of Trump’s approach. With over 50 industrial and tech parks, Jalisco alone hosts about 40 percent of Mexico’s high-end tech industry

And U.S. companies are taking note. Next week, Sandoval is traveling to California to meet with leaders from 13 major tech companies and 30 to 40 startups rattled by Trump’s bombast. Sandoval said there was already a “strong Californian presence” in Jalisco’s business hubs, and he was looking to boost it further.

The U.S. companies he’s meeting with are all “anxious about the whole situation” with Trump Sandoval said. And he said they’ve expressed interest in moving operations and talent south of the border to weather the protectionist storm Trump’s kicked up in Washington. (Sandoval declined to name specific companies at the companies’ request, presumably for fear of Twitter retribution.)

Jalisco’s gambit comes at an opportune time. For decades, Mexico has been afflicted by a serious brain drain. One-third of Mexico’s 30,000 Ph.Ds live in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of college-educated Mexicans in the United States rose from some 300,000 to 530,000 resi´ents.

Jalisco’s hardly the only state working to capitalize off Trump’s nativism. Querétaro, Hidalgo, Puebla, and the federal district of Mexico City are all ramping up their courtship of foreign businesses, offering what they say is a friendlier business environment than Trump’s America.

Sandoval said he, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and Mexican businesses were all bracing for Trump to make good on his promise to renegotiate NAFTA, if not scrap it altogether.

“We are ready to negotiate free trade, but with dignity,” he said. In the meantime, Mexico can try to poach much-coveted workers.

“We believe talent has no borders,” he said.

Photo credit: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

 Twitter: @realcpaz

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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