LATIN AMERICA

Mexico’s Peña Nieto to discuss immigration reform with Obama

Two presidents also set to tackle most recent policies during White House meeting

Obama and then President-elect Peña Nieto shake hands during a meeting at the White House in 2012.
Obama and then President-elect Peña Nieto shake hands during a meeting at the White House in 2012.JEWEL SAMAD / AFP

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will meet his US counterpart Barack Obama in the White House on Tuesday on his first official visit to Washington as head of state. Peña Nieto previously visited the US capital in 2012, months before taking office. The Mexican ministry of foreign affairs has said cooperation on immigration will be one of the main topics on the agenda. Mexico wants to acknowledge the Obama administration for taking an executive action that protects nearly five million undocumented individuals in the US, most of whom – 80 percent, according to the Mexican government – are Mexican nationals.

As well as immigration, another of the key topics on the agenda will be commerce. The US and Mexico share the busiest border in the world, with 350 million crossings each year, and 70 percent of their trade is via land. Mexico is the US’s third-largest trading partner and the United States is Mexico’s most important trader. The United States receives 80 percent of Mexican exports.

Mexico wants to acknowledge the Obama administration for taking an executive action that protects nearly five million undocumented individuals

But the sluggish pace of cargo trucks’ movement across the border causes million-dollar losses. Wait times at checkpoints at Tijuana, Nogales and Nuevo Laredo can run from one to three hours, which means at least $549 million in direct losses annually and about $7.3 billion in indirect losses each year, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Tuesday’s meeting is the first between the two presidents since Peña Nieto faced his toughest year in office, one that has been besmirched by scandals, and marked by insecurity and violence, especially the events in Iguala, which caused six deaths in situ and the subsequent disappearance of 43 student teachers from Ayotzinapa. The United States has shown concern and has offered to help identify the remains that the Mexican Prosecutor General’s Office suspect may belong to the missing youths. Mexican Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Sergio Alcocer said his country had accepted the Americans’ offer and welcomed any help “from any other government that has collaborated or offered to collaborate.”

According to Alcocer, Peña Nieto and Obama will discuss their concerns over violence, but the conversation will “not be restricted” to the Mexican case. “We know there have been violent events in Missouri, just to mention one case,” the undersecretary said, referring to the protests that broke out in Ferguson after a court found a white police officer innocent in the shooting of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown.

Other topics on the agenda include maritime borders, cooperation on natural disasters, and financial and banking issues

On the eve of his departure for the United States, President Peña Nieto gave a speech on national television to ring in the new year. He insisted that he shared the indignation many felt over what he called “a difficult year” without making any explicit reference to Ayotzinapa. “I am firmly committed to the fight against corruption and impunity,” he repeated.

Alcocer said Peña Nieto and Obama would also talk about the US government’s efforts to relaunch diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even though Mexico has written off a portion of Cuba’s debt and established a foreign trade office on the island in an effort at rapprochement, it was not involved in negotiations between Washington and Havana.

Other topics on the agenda include maritime borders, cooperation on natural disasters, and financial and banking issues that affect both countries, Alcocer told journalists at a press conference before the trip.

Translation: Dyane Jean François