Ordinarily when a foreign leader visits the United States you can expect platitudes, not insults. Yet insults are what Americans got when Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto recently visited California.
The young (48) president, with what one biography touts as "movie-star good looks", was on his first state visit to the United States since being sworn in as president of Mexico two years ago. His first and only stop was described, with no irony intended, as the "immigrant-friendly [state of] California", where he held meetings with the state's Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.
His two-day tour began with a speech, in Spanish, to Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles. And like any good Mexican president running for re-election, "he pledged to make life better for his countrymen living on both sides of the border." Mexico considers its nationals Mexican regardless of where they live or their immigration status.
Interestingly, when the Mexican president met with members of "his community" before his speech, their reported concerns were (1) economic development in Mexico so that immigration could be "a choice, as opposed to a forced choice", and (2) cartel violence. Mr. Nieto did not address a group of demonstrators outside his speech, "who said they were upset with his recent move to open Mexican oil and gas reserves to foreign and private investments."
Observant readers will notice what was not on the minds of those the president spoke with.
Nonetheless, the Mexican president felt compelled to engage in a little America bashing:
Pena Nieto criticized unethical governors who had cracked down on immigrants, though he didn't name any specifically.
"There are still states that have not evolved so much as California, that still skimp on recognition and, even worse, the rights of immigrants," he said. "Those who still believe and bet for the exclusion and discrimination or the rejection of diversity ... I only have one thing to say: the future, and a very near future, will demonstrate your ethical mistake. Time will show we're right."
In Mr. Nieto's mind it is apparently unethical to enforce American immigration laws. And of course, what would a campaign speech from a Mexican president be without a gratuitous smear of those who "reject diversity" and "those who still believe and bet on exclusion and discrimination"? Could he possibly be referring to those Americans, of which I am one, who favor legal, but not illegal, immigration? Perhaps Governor Brown will ask during the president's next visit.
And speaking of Governor Brown, the Mexican president's comment about other states becoming as "evolved" as California regarding immigration would be a hoot, if it didn't reflect such a serious subversion of the country's immigration system. You can gain some small appreciation of that in Governor Brown's telling all those assembled to hear the Mexican president that, "you're all welcome in California." There's a strong chance his audience included both legal and illegal immigrants, but the governor chose not to distinguish.
Indeed, he chose to emphasize his bona fides as a governor who doesn't support American immigration law by emphasizing his own successful effort to subvert it: "It wasn't very long ago that the Governor of California was outlawing driver's licenses for people who were undocumented from Mexico. That's not the law anymore."
Did I mention that,
A good relationship with Peña Nieto and Mexico could pay political dividends for the governor, who is running for reelection in November. In 2010, Latinos made up 19.2 percent of California voters.
Apparently, bragging about subverting the enforcement of American immigration law against illegal migrants and signaling your state's welcoming stance toward them, while standing mute when a visitor insults your fellow countrymen is the governor's idea of good politics.