A month after he snubbed Joe Biden’s Americas summit, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sat down with his US counterpart Tuesday at the White House, amid rising tensions over migration.
Biden underscored the need to address “migration as a shared hemispheric challenge” in remarks ahead of the meeting, describing long-time ally and neighbor Mexico as an “equal partner.”
He said his administration was expanding legal pathways for work in the United States from Mexico and Central America, citing “a record” 300,000 temporary work visas issued for Mexican workers last year.
And he thanked Lopez Obrador for “stepping up” and issuing visas for Central American migrants in Mexico.
The Mexican president called for a “bold program” to tackle migration issues, calling on the United States — facing a labor shortage — to allow more skilled Mexican and Central American laborers into the country “to support” the work force.
“It is indispensable for us to regularize and give certainty to migrants who for years have lived and worked in a very honest manner and are also contributing to the development of this great nation,” he said.
Lopez Obrador acknowledged likely pushback from US Republican politicians, who frequently claim Biden has left the southern US border unprotected against unauthorized crossings.
The two leaders said in a joint statement after their meeting that Mexico had also committed to invest $1.5 billion on border infrastructure between 2022 and 2024.
Tuesday’s talks also touched on security and economic cooperation, including the need to invest in development projects in Central America to deter people from leaving.
The two countries agreed last year to overhaul their fight against drug trafficking to address root causes of migration, and to step up efforts to curb cross-border arms smuggling.
Human trafficking was also center stage following the death late last month of more than 50 migrants — many of them Mexicans — abandoned in a scorching hot trailer in San Antonio, Texas.
The two leaders said in their joint statement that the San Antonio tragedy “further strengthens our determination to go after the multi-billion-dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and increase our efforts to address the root causes of migration.”
Amid soaring inflation on both sides of the border, Lopez Obrador said he’d suggested suspending tariffs and regulations to “lower prices for consumers in both our countries.”
He also floated a joint public-private investment plan to produce more goods.
The visit was Lopez Obrador’s second to the White House since Biden took office last year, despite a sometimes tense relationship with his US counterpart.
Lopez Obrador boycotted in June the Summit of the Americas hosted in Los Angeles — where migration was again a key subject — over Biden’s refusal to invite Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Biden said Tuesday “overhyped headlines” mischaracterized “a strong, productive relationship” between the two leaders.
But Lopez Obrador was more cautious, saying “in spite of our grievances that are not easy to forget … on many occasions we’ve been able to coincide and work together as true allies.”
However, he said Mexico had “trust” in Biden “because you respect our sovereignty.”
“Count on us always,” he added.