President Biden takes office. What now for Mexico?
Another Order revokes Trump’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count, which will ultimately give Latinos more clout in US elections presumably resulting in more Mexico-friendly policies
Biden signs executive order stopping border wall construction. VOA photo
Patrick O’Heffernan, Ajijic. The United States has a new President. So what will this mean for Mexico, and how much can we trust the Biden Administration to do what the Biden campaign promised?
By the end of Inauguration Day, President Biden signed 6 Executive Orders impacting Mexico and US-Mexican relations. Four of the Orders began changes in Trump immigration policies that have vexed Mexican society and the economy, imposed hardships on Tijuana, and been a topic of constant irritation to the Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) Administration.
Biden signed an Order that strengthened the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)program that protects immigrants brought to the United States as children from deportation and provides a path to citizenship for them, ending the potential for 800,000 people being deported to Mexico, many who have no connection to the country.
Another Order revokes Trump’s plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count, which will ultimately give Latinos more clout in US elections presumably resulting in more Mexico-friendly policies. Given that the Democrats lost ground with Latino voters in the 2020 election, there are no guarantees.
Biden also ended Trump’s attempt to find and deport unauthorized immigrants anywhere in the country, and he ordered an immediate stop to all border wall construction, both sore points between the US and Mexico. However, while Biden also ordered a release of the Latino children held in cages and an acceleration of family reunification, he did not rescind the rule that forces 30,000 asylum seekers to remain in Mexico – mostly in Tijuana – another sore point that will continue to fester.
The fifth and sixth Orders brought the US back into the Paris Climate Accord and cancelled the XL Pipeline, mandating a complete Federal review of regulations as part of Biden’s push for a carbon-reduced economy. AMLO has actively sought to close down solar and other non-carbon energy sources, so this too will lead to friction.
Another flashpoint will be the labor requirements of the USMCA –also called T-MEC – which the Mexican government has been very slow to enforce. Biden campaign spokespeople said the new Administration will insist on compliance. Give that US annual trade represents 76% of Mexican exports, plus an estimated $5 billion in remittances, , this will be delicate and controversial in the precarious Mexican economy.
The signals are mixed. After weeks of delay, AMLO sent President Biden a congratulatory letter, but it was late and contained a warning to stay out of Mexico’s internal affairs — not a great start. But José Medina Mora Icaza, head of the powerful Employers’ Confederation of the Mexican Republic (Coparmex) announced that he saw the new US administration as an opportunity to strengthen the High Level Economic Dialogue (DEAN) which had fallen into disuse under Trump, and a way to build up trade under T-Mec.
So what now? At the top of the agenda is immigration, both because of huge pressure from domestic US organizations like Voto Latino , and pressure from the AMLO government to relieve the refugee camps along the northern border and better handle the caravans now moving to the southern Mexican border.
It will be very tough. GOP “immigration hawks” in Congress will oppose any legislation to ease immigration restrictions and close Mexican refugee camps. The immigration prison industry collects over $4 billionUS a year from the government – some of which is recycled into campaigns of the “immigration hawks” to block reform and keep the prisons filled, reinforcing and underwriting opposition.
All of this means President Biden will have to be tough and determined as well as smart to solve the immigration puzzles, overcome the GOP and prison lobbyists, and navigate a new trade and political relationship with AMLO — while he stops Covid, repairs the economy, fights global warming, and outmaneuvers the obstructionist GOP minority in the Senate.
Will he stay the course?
In 2014 then Vice President Biden gave the keynote address at the Netroots Nation Progressive Convention in Detroit. During his speech he was heckled by Latino activists opposed to Obama’s deportation policies. He handled them with courtesy and respect. As Chairman of Netroots Nation, I met the Vice President afterward and complimented him on his deft handling of the hecklers. He thanked me and then looked me in the eye with steely determination as he shook my hand and said they were right – we have to do better on immigration.
He has already begun. I think he will find a way to make Mexico – and Mexicans – great partners.