Mexico's Castaneda: Take a Hard Line Against Trump

By Jerry Kammer on November 14, 2016

Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, a likely candidate for the Mexican presidency in 2018, is calling on his country's government to take a hard line against potential large-scale deportations of Mexicans in the administration of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump.

"I think Mexico should draw its line," Castaneda writes in a column for El Financiero that is also published on his website. In blunt language he outlines a plan for Mexico to paralyze deportations by declaring that it will accept deportees only if the United States presents documents to prove that they are Mexicans.

Castaneda's call for an aggressive response to Trump sets up the possibility that the incoming president's policies regarding immigration and trade will be a major issue in Mexico's 2018 campaign. Castaneda also writes that Mexico should declare that Trump's proposed border wall "is a hostile act ... against which Mexico will fight every way it can," and that the North American Free Trade Agreement "cannot be reopened or renegotiated".

Castaneda, a graduate of Princeton and a New York University professor, served as Mexican foreign minister during the early years of the presidency of Vicente Fox, who was elected in 2000. Even then he was an aggressive advocate of Mexicans living illegally in the United States. In early 2001, he persuaded the administration of incoming U.S. President George W. Bush to negotiate an immigration deal. The talks were intensively pursued until the terrorist attacks of September 11 destroyed their momentum and fixated Washington's attention on national security.

Known as brilliant and irascible, Castaneda has long aspired to the Mexican presidency but has lacked a political base on which to run. His defiance of Trump could provide the basis for a run in 2018. His provocative plan for fouling mass deportations is likely to have broad populist appeal that could propel his candidacy.

"We could simply tell the authorities of the United States that we accept a deportee on the condition that they demonstrate to us, with documents, their Mexican nationality," Castaneda writes. "If they claim that the undocumented by definition do not have documents, we can tell them we think the great majority of the deportees are Central Americans and that if they want to deport them, let them deport them to Central America."

Castaneda's proposal could wreak havoc with a borderlands ritual that the United States and Mexico have followed for decades. Instead of going through the potentially lengthy deportation process, illegal border crossers are allowed a "voluntary return" to Mexico despite lacking proof that they are Mexican. The process avoids a logjam for U.S. authorities while releasing the returnees for another attempt at an illegal crossing. It also motivates Central Americans to try to adopt a Mexican accent in order to avoid being deported to their homelands.

Castaneda writes that if Mexico were to implement his proposal, "there would be such a backlog of deportations that the Americans won't know what to do. In any case, the important thing is to draw the line: to affirm or reiterate that the deportation of hundreds of thousands or millions of Mexicans constitutes a grave violation of human rights."