Opinion: President Joe Biden got the upper hand in his virtual meeting with Mexico’s Andrés López Obrador. But certainly he knows that AMLO can still make his life miserable.
By Elvia Díaz – Arizona Republic.
President Joe Biden is no Donald Trump – and now the Mexican president knows it, too.
It’s becoming abundantly clear that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador walked away empty-handed from his first virtual meeting with Biden.
Biden set out to categorically shut down López Obrador’s most urgent and key requests even before the two sat down for their chat on Monday.
When asked earlier in the day whether the U.S. would share its COVID-19 vaccine stockpile with Mexico as López Obrador sought, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “no.”
She also threw cold water to the notion of a Bracero-style immigrant guest worker program, saying that would require congressional approval.
Biden needs AMLO’s help on the border
The joint statement after their meeting had nothing more than mere platitudes with both expressing mutual respect.
AMLO, as the Mexican president is widely known, said on Tuesday morning that Biden understood his request for vaccines and there were no “discrepancies” in their respective agendas.
Except, of course, that AMLO had nothing concrete to show his countrymen other than that the two will keep talking.
Biden got the upper-hand – at least for now. But he must be keenly aware that López Obrador can either help him avert a migrant crisis at the southern border, as he helped Trump, or turn the southern border into a political nightmare.
The Mexican president surprised just about everyone when he became a Trump ally, engaging in all sorts of quid pro quo maneuvering.
Most notably, he deployed the Mexican military to block Central Americans from reaching the U.S.-Mexico border and agreed to keep tens of thousands of U.S. asylum seekers in Mexico while waiting for their claims to be processed.
Good changes, but a crisis is brewing
There’s now a crisis brewing at the southern border that can quickly turn into a political and humanitarian disaster.
Biden is undoing Trump’s harsh immigration policies, including the so-called Remain in Mexico program that forced asylum seekers to wait for their court hearing in Mexico. He is trying to reunite children separated from their parents.
That’s a monumental task.
Plus, the new immigrant-friendly attitude is encouraging desperate Central Americans to make the trek north, and that’s worrying the White House.
“We are not saying don’t come, we are saying don’t come now because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process to them as quickly as possible,” said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a Monday press briefing.
Mayorkas, who’s leading Biden’s family reunification task force, called the increasing number of migrants at the border a “challenge” and said it’ll take time to rebuild the country’s immigration system.
That “challenge” could quickly turn into a crisis. Already, Biden is using one of Trump’s infamous temporary sites to hold the increasing number of migrant minors.
Biden has good reasons to say no
Biden is right not to immediately share the U.S. vaccine stockpile with Mexico since there aren’t enough for folks here.
And there are many reasons for Biden not to even consider a Bracero-style program that could bring 600,000 to 800,000 temporary workers, as AMLO proposed.
The pandemic has left too many Americans unemployed, for starters, but they can always go pick fruit and vegetables or do landscaping. There is plenty of that back-breaking work available.
It’s shameful for AMLO to even suggest a Bracero program, given the substandard and abusive conditions endured by the millions of workers who participated in the program that grew out of a labor shortage during World War II.
The agreement between Mexico and U.S. provided cheap labor from 1942 to 1964 that critics say depressed farmworkers’ wages in the U.S. and cheated Mexicans out of part of their salaries.
AMLO will need something to play ball
As part the deal, the U.S. sent 10% of the workers’ salaries to the Mexican government to give to the workers once they returned. Turns out, the Mexican government kept much of that money and some “braceros,” as those workers are known, are still clamoring for it.
López Obrador told reporters prior to his virtual meeting with Biden that Mexico did steal that “bracero” money and promised to look into matter – which means nothing will come out of it, of course.
Reviving a bracero-style program and sharing COVID-19 vaccines may be a hard no. But Biden must know that he has to give López Obrador something to hold the line against Central Americans.
Otherwise, López Obrador – among the last world leaders to recognize Biden’s victory – could really stick it to Biden by opening the gates at the southern border to the throng of Central Americans ready to flood the United States.
Elvia Díaz is an editorial columnist for The Republic and azcentral.
Reach her at email@example.com.
Follow her on Twitter, @elviadiaz1.