The Biden administration should avoid the Trump-era mistake of reducing the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico relationship to the single issue of immigration. The administration has made Vice President Kamala Harris its point person at the southern border, and she has been engaging with Mexico and Central American nations to embrace a regional approach to migration, which is laudable. But starting with her May 7 meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced over the weekend, the vice president should broaden the scope of her Mexico agenda to cover the complex array of economic, environmental, security, energy and rule of law issues that define the U.S.-Mexico dealings.
Mexico is heading in the wrong direction, and it is time for the United States to take notice and prioritize a relationship that is crucial to our common well-being. Because ties across the Rio Grande simultaneously involve so many sensitive foreign and domestic issues, the vice president is uniquely suited to coordinate Mexico policy. The role should be familiar to President Biden; it’s much like the one then-President Obama asked him to take on under the framing of a “High Level Economic Dialogue” between Mexico and the U.S. in 2013.
Harris’ immediate focus on migration is understandable given the situation at the border. But unauthorized crossings and asylum claims — it’s notable that Mexicans have once again overtaken Central Americans as the largest group being detained — are symptoms of other issues. To focus exclusively on the migration question is to heed the fever but not its causes.
It has become fashionable to point out the need for comprehensive policies when it comes to the forces pushing Central Americans north, but there are fewer such calls for a more expansive approach to our relationship with Mexico, which suffers from, or enjoys, depending on where you sit, inertia and complacency.
Engaging Mexico City on migration alone sends the wrong message. López Obrador got along well with Donald Trump because neither hyper-nationalistic leader poked around in the other’s business. AMLO, as he’s known, understood that so long as he did Trump’s bidding on migration — agreeing to allow Mexico to become the waiting room for asylum seekers and guarding his country’s southern border, for instance — the U.S. wouldn’t stop him from indulging his politics of nostalgic megalomania.
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