For some, Donald Trump’s biggest “contribution” to the bilateral relationship was showing that it was possible to openly pressure the Mexican government.
A classic saying in Mexican politics is, “In politics, as in poetry, form is substance.”
The phrase, attributed to Jesús Reyes Heroles, a distinguished old-school politician, could be applied to the current relationship between the United States and Mexico, particularly the methods used by Joe Biden’s still new government in the face of the immigration crisis at the border between the two countries.
A visit by a delegation headed by Roberta Jacobson, now in charge of border issues in a position that straddles both the National Security Council and the Department of Homeland Security, highlighted this difference.
The border has become, as it was in 2019, the last barrier between thousands of presumed immigrants and asylum seekers, especially Central Americans, and their chance to enter United States territory.
The rhetoric used by the Donald Trump administration was to confront the “invasion” with forceful measures and openly threaten the then recently elected government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador with tariff increases if it failed to stop the caravans.
In fact, Washington confirmed that Trump’s biggest “contribution” to the relationship with Mexico was showing that it was possible to openly pressure the Mexican government and obtain a positive outcome.
The Trump administration also established the “Remain in Mexico” plan, alongside its publicized efforts to complete one of its most symbolic campaign promises: the construction of a border wall to stop immigrants and criminals.
But Trump’s politics also led to one of his administration’s greatest scandals: the separation of families, the detention of unaccompanied children and the arrest of minors.
In a way, the situation hasn’t changed much. The border is still closed, partly due to the health crisis in both countries, and partly because the legal provisions in force haven’t changed.
But now there is a formal promise of change, in just a matter of time.
Immigration was one of the core issues in Biden’s presidential campaign, which looked to establish a contrast between his vision for the United States, the traditional image of a country of immigrants, against the more restrictive and even xenophobic one proposed by Trump.
The visit by Jacobson’s delegation clearly shows these differences. There are common goals in respect to the immigration issue, the border issue and the need for solutions, which involve the possibility of development plans for southern Mexico and the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador).
What is clear is that any U.S. plan for the immigration problem and the current border crisis needs Mexico’s help.
Biden has chosen public dialogue and perhaps some discreet pressure. But this has formed part of the relationship for decades.