WSJ: Biden’s Dirty Border Dealings with Mexico’s President

‘Is AMLO Blackmailing Biden?’, and why you may be paying Mexico to secure its southern border

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 9, 2024
EPABiden and AMLO meeing in January 2023.

I recently discussed negotiations between U.S. officials and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as “AMLO”) in Mexico City, concluding the U.S. got “rolled” in those talks. According to the Wall Street Journal, that rolling continued after the pair returned to Washington, with the Biden administration meekly acceding to a Mexican government demand it pare down its “root causes” claims for the disaster at the Southwest border by ignoring tyranny abroad. Given that tyranny drives much of the poverty, corruption, and violence migrants claim as reasons for coming here illegally, Biden’s bending to Mexico City’s will is shortsighted at best and destructive at worst. That you may be paying AMLO to protect his own southern border is just bitter icing on the distasteful cake.

The December 27 Meeting. The White House sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to Mexico City on December 27 to meet with AMLO, hoping to obtain his assistance in slowing the wave of migrants crossing through his country on their way to ours.

As I explained in an op-ed in the New York Post the next day: “The resulting ‘Joint Communique’ from that parley reveals Mexico City has no interest in assisting an administration that won’t secure US borders.”

That was because that diplomatic press release stressed issues solely in the interests of the Mexican government (like amnesty for “long-term undocumented Hispanic migrants and DACA recipients”, which would boost remittances flowing south) but was light on any practical assistance Mexico City promised to offer to slow the migrant flow though that country to our Southwest border.

AMLO’s “Financial Shortfall”. I’ll return to that communique later, but on January 8, a number of local outlets ran an article headlined “The US sees a drop in illegal border crossings after Mexico increases enforcement”. Perhaps I failed to read between the lines sufficiently?

Well, it’s likely a bit more prosaic — but no less skeezy — than that. Here’s the key passage:

Mexico’s immigration agency sent at least 22 flights from its border region with the U.S. to southern cities during the last 10 days of December, according to Witness at the Border, an advocacy group that tracks flight data. Most were from Piedras Negras, which is across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.

Mexico also ran two removal flights to Venezuela with 329 migrants. The stretch was punctuated by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Mexico City on Dec. 28 to confront unprecedented crossings to the United States.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said a financial shortfall that had led the immigration agency to suspend deportations and other operations was resolved. He did not offer details. [Emphasis added.]

I have some ideas about how that shortfall “was resolved”.

The Mexican immigration agency is formally the “Comisionado del Instituto Nacional de Migración” (INM), and the INM’s director, Francisco Garduño, had ordered a “suspension of migrant deportations and transfers” from the country back on December 1, citing a lack of funds.

The Associated Press reported in early December, based to an internal Mexican government memo it reviewed at the time, that: “Mexico’s finance ministry suspended payments to [INM] in November due to end-of-year budget adjustments.”

Blinken and Mayorkas showed up in Mexico City a few weeks later, hats in hands, seeking relief for the migrant crisis pulling down the president’s electoral prospects. And magically, INM’s budget shortfalls were resolved. Congress may want to see whether the visit and the INM’s funding were linked, but things look a little fishy.

“Is AMLO Blackmailing Biden?” Fish need water, and if Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the Wall Street Journal is right (and she normally is when it comes to the Americas), the Biden administration dropped plenty of it on the aforementioned communique the White House issued after the meeting between AMLO and Blinken and Mayorkas.

Her January 7 column is captioned “Is AMLO Blackmailing Biden? Controlling migration flows ensures the Mexican president a pass on democracy”, and it’s a damning indictment of what’s transpiring as the Biden administration attempts to deal with the Southwest border.

According to O’Grady, the original U.S. (English-language) version of that document called “’democratic decline’ one of the root causes of heavy migration flows at the border between the two countries”, language that did not appear in the Mexican (Spanish-language) copy.

She offers some ideas as to why that phrase does not appear in the current version of that communique on the White House website:

Word has it that Mexico’s Foreign Ministry threw a hissy fit when it saw the White House’s assertion that there is a connection between repression — think Caracas [Venezuela’s capital], Havana [Cuba’s] and Managua [Nicaragua’s] — and large waves of emigration. Whether the U.S. tried to defend its language isn’t clear. But those words were rapidly struck from the White House post so that the amended communiqué matched the Mexican version.

A National Security Council spokesperson told me last week that “due to a version-control issue, the initial version of the document that we posted online included an additional phrase that had not been discussed with the Mexicans.”

Or perhaps more accurately, the phrase wasn’t approved by Mexico. Alejandro Celorio, legal adviser to the ministry, was quick to tweet the “corrected” communiqué posted on the White House website.

It would be nice to think that this incident was but a small blip in an otherwise healthy relationship between two North American democracies. It was no such thing. Instead it was the latest example of how the Biden administration bows to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on matters big and small.

AMLO has the upper hand with Mr. Biden because Mexico controls the migrant flows from Tapachula, on its border with Guatemala, to its northern border with the U.S. Mr. Biden needs Mexico’s cooperation as he strives to preserve reckless U.S. immigration policy and still get re-elected. [Emphasis in original.]

I can confirm O’Grady’s contention that “democratic decline” was in the original version, because I quoted it in my op-ed: “The communiqué says the meeting “reinforc[ed] our partnership to address the root causes of migration, such as poverty, inequality, democratic decline and violence”.

So, does that mean that the White House has subsequently decided that a decline in democratic institutions and a movement to tyranny in migrant-sending countries is no longer a “root cause”?

Congress may want to ask about that as well, but in any event, O’Grady explains that linking the ongoing movement toward tyranny in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba to the “dire poverty” in those countries — which is definitely a “push factor” driving illegal migrants to the United States — is “unspeakable in AMLO’s government”.

Why wouldn’t AMLO want to concede such a thing? According to O’Grady:

The old corporatist can abide neither the gringos nor market economics. He’s also a nationalist with a strong authoritarian streak who is trying to centralize power. The last thing he wants is a coalition of democracies in the Americas, led by the U.S., pressuring him to respect human rights and the independence of institutions.

This explains his defense of the military dictatorships in the region.

Instead of a slide toward tyranny in those three countries driving to an increase in poverty there, she explains, AMLO “blames the surge of huddled masses yearning to enter the U.S. on sanctions out of Washington” and has “been pushing hard to get them lifted”.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuela since 2005, on Nicaragua on and off over the years, and on Cuba since 1962, in each case in an attempt to force the governments in each to respect democratic norms.

While, as O’Grady makes clear, President Biden hasn’t “fully acquiesced” to AMLO’s entreaties to provide those countries with sanctions relief, “at the margin he’s helping the tyrants”. That includes White House inaction on AMLO’s own alleged violations of energy provisions in the July 2020 U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The Biden administration could end the disaster at the Southwest border by taking a few pages from his predecessors’ migrant-detention handbooks, but he’s apparently attempting to use your money to contract some relief from the Mexican government instead. If the price for that relief means ignoring the tyranny driving migrant flows, it’s too high and way too shortsighted.