Beyond the typical platitudes of a first presidential encounter, what usually stands out from a coming together of this type is the symbolism that emanates from the respective speeches and those subliminal messages that leave unfinished business more than concrete results. Both Joe Biden, President of the United States, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican leader, are professional politicians who, since a long time ago, know this very well and understand the terrain they are traversing.
And both showed this in their recent virtual interview, because they know each other so well.
While it’s true that Biden and López Obrador also talked about cooperation in the development of each country, COVID-19, and climate change, the immigration issue was the most important topic in this first bilateral meeting.
It was the time to do it, not only for the symbolism of eradicating the ghosts of the recent past, in which immigrants were blamed for everything by a xenophobic and supremacist administration, but to begin establishing a new roadmap to humanize the valuable human capital this undeniable segment of the U.S. population represents. Especially in this exact moment, when the public health crisis that is the coronavirus demands all hands on deck to combat the pandemic.
Indeed, from the invectives issued against Mexican immigrants by the former president of the United States, including calling them “rapists,” “criminals,” and “drug dealers,” to the acknowledgment Biden made of their contributions to the country, there is an enormous gap that predicts a better relationships with Mexico, without anyone having to cede anything in terms of sovereignty of either country. The goal of the “Remain in Mexico” program, for example was definitive, and we see now, little by little, that entry of asylum-seekers into the United States is once again a reality.
But without declaring victory too soon, of course, just this change in the treatment of the immigration issue has immediate repercussions on both sides of the border, something that definitely requires adjustments along the way and, above all, pressure so that neither promises nor plans go unfulfilled.
Not at all easy, of course, but at the end of the day different and hopeful in the short, medium, and long terms, above all if sufficient public policies are aggregated that do not once again leave space for anti-immigrant politicking that, on the other hand, has proven to be counterproductive for those who use it as an anachronism and stagnant electoral strategy.
And it is here where the two countries, and particularly these two leaders, have a historic, uphill duty to attack the roots of the migration problem, along with, perhaps, investment in financing improvements to the economic conditions and job sector in the south of Mexico and the Central American region, since public policies are only local, temporary cover-ups for a solution to the many problems that migrants face in their journeys north. And whose origin is not in immigration itself, but in the economic system that rules us.
That is, it must be clear that migration is just a consequence.
Beyond a binational controversy, the migration phenomenon is an element that necessarily links common goals in this new era, and not discrepancies, even racial ones, as per the prior administration. This moment, this new immigration impulse also must be used as an opportunity, and not relegated to written speeches and posterior press releases with full-color photographs. It is, of course, time to follow through.
At bottom, if someone is waiting for a confrontation between Biden and López Obrador, he has made a mistake. The two are old hands in politics, and on the issue of immigration they have found a topic of distention, of “near-agreement,” of common objectives without concrete details. On the other hand, and without forgetting themselves still, we have the contrasting words of AMLO praising Trump during his visit to the White House in 2020, despite the many insults and grievances that the ex-U.S. president emitted against Mexicans.
Essentially, there was no confrontation, despite the many voices that used this very visit of López Obrador to the White House last year as an “analytical argument,” and the fact that the President of Mexico did not recognize the electoral victory of Biden in November, but in the middle of December.
The two men understand that this is a new era and it has to be taken advantage of; that in this new political scenario, diplomacy is returning as an option for both nations; that sometimes they have been “distant neighbors” (as Alan Riding, former Mexico correspondent for The New York Times put it), and at others have played at being “the bear and the porcupine” (according to Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico).
To López Obrador, Mexican diplomacy, via the Estrada Doctrine, has worked for him two consecutive times, now having the record of meeting with two U.S. presidents in less than one year, with two profoundly contradictory agendas. Thus, to the first (Trump), as part of the message between the lines of any presidential meeting, AMLO dedicates the phrase attributed to Porfirio Díaz, who ruled Mexico for more than 30 years: “Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States”. To Biden’s more condescending yet insightful smile, López Obrador sends him the modification of that phrase: “Mexico, so close to God and not so far from the United States”.
There is no doubt that Biden and López Obrador understand very well the fork in the road in this political world. But they still have not demonstrated truly concrete results on immigration.
To read the Spanish version of this article click here.