Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray spoke at the "First Annual Distinguished Lecture on U.S.-Mexico Relations" hosted last week by the Center for U.S. and Mexico Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Among other topics, Minister Videgaray addressed immigration issues pertaining to the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The Mexican diplomat began by noting that the arrival of the Trump administration presented a new challenge. Videgaray explained that the old strategy applied to U.S.-Mexico relations had to be adapted. The new strategy requires a change from a relationship centered on presidents to one less anchored in the White House. This led the Mexican government to re-establish relationships outside the capital.
Moving into immigration issues more specifically, Minister Videgaray commented,
We're a country that believes in the rule of law, both in Mexico and in the U.S. We don't condone or promote illegal immigration. But we do, we do have an obligation to and belief in human rights. And we think that any authority in the U.S. ... should protect the rights of Mexican nationals regardless of their immigration status."
As such, the 50 Mexican consulates in the United States are working to ensure that the rights of Mexicans are protected. The minister clarified, "This doesn't mean we are fighting against the law and enforcement of U.S. law. On the contrary, what we're asking is that due process and human rights are completely guaranteed for Mexicans." Later in his remarks, Videgaray reiterated that Mexico would not tolerate the violation of the human rights of Mexicans in the United States. He noted that legal representation is being provided to thousands of Mexican nationals to ensure their protection. The foreign minister added, "We are not social activists. We do not promote or condone illegality, but we work through the courts and laws of the land."
Foreign Minister Videgaray also remarked on Central American migration through Mexico and into the United States, "We want to have a coordinated migration policy." The minister added cooperation is needed given the challenges that the flow of Central Americans presents for both countries. Videgaray suggested said cooperation should have a clear focus on the development of Central America, because "immigration enforcement is not going to be enough" to curb emigration from the region.
Other remarks concerning immigration included a call for a guaranteed free flow of remittances into Mexico and a "thinner border" allowing the flow of people and goods.
The Mexican minister also outlined a series of policy limits that the Mexican government has placed. The first concerned a zero-tolerance for human rights violations of Mexican nationals in the United States. Secondly, Minister Videgaray stated,
We will never accept extra-territorial application of internal immigration policies. At some point the Trump administration said they would be sending into Mexico people from other nationalities that they did not want in this country.
Presumably, the foreign diplomat was referring to the concept of deporting "other than Mexican" (OTM) nationals, who cross the border illegally, back to Mexico. This concept is already in place between the United States and Canada in the form of a bilateral agreement that obliges each government to take back third-country nationals who entered from the other's territory. Nevertheless, such an agreement is out of the question for the Mexican government:
We have no obligation. And we will not take them. Why? We are Mexico. Only Mexico can define its own immigration policies. So we will completely oppose any immigration policies that imply any attempt of extraterritoriality.
Lastly, Minister Videgaray reiterated that Mexico will not pay for any wall. In response, the audience laughed and clapped. The foreign minister briefly added that Mexico is working with the White House and other agencies to develop a new mechanism for temporary workers in sectors like agriculture.
On multiple occasions the Mexican minster reiterated that the differences between the two governments should not dictate the relationship between the two states. Despite the public friction between Mexico and the United States, the Peña Nieto administration continues to engage and work with the Trump administration. (This week, Secretary of Homeland Security Security Kirstjen Nielsen will meet with President Peña Nieto and Minister Videgaray.)
However, this dynamic could change after Mexico's presidential election in July. Currently, polls show that the left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is in the lead. AMLO has been extremely critical of President Trump and his policies, and if elected he could reduce Mexico's cooperation on border security and immigration.