What Mexico Should Be Focusing On

Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto once again canceled plans to make his first visit to the White House to meet with President Trump after a recent phone call described as "testy" ended in an impasse over President Trump's promised border wall.

This time, the pretext for canceling alluded to Mexico's upcoming July presidential election, where any action by Peña Nieto seen as folding under pressure from President Trump could damage prospects for his ruling party's successor candidate.  A similar occurrence took place just about a year ago, in January 2017, when Peña Nieto first called off a Washington trip to meet with the newly inaugurated President Trump after a dispute over who would pay for the wall.

Maybe this current rift with the Trump administration is really a blessing in disguise, allowing Mexico to have its own national dialogue on immigration.  President Peña Nieto might better use the time at home to assemble his Cabinet and Legislature for frank discussions about mass emigration out of and through Mexico, the role and responsibilities of his nation's government, and Mexican society.  Let Mexico's president and "Congress of the Union" expend their energy on the "going" part of the immigration issue, just as their U.S. counterparts do on the "coming."

Presently, there is great inconsistency in Mexico's understanding of why the United States contemplates building a wall.  Mexico is a country of emigration and immigration, but the Mexican government's policy toward Mexicans who have emigrated, particularly those in the United States, stands in stark contrast to how the government treats immigrants on Mexican territory.  While Mexican policymakers demand openness from the United States, not only does the Mexican government limit the rights of foreigners, but immigrants are often subject to human rights violations by Mexican police and immigration officials.

Erosion of Mexico's goodwill toward the U.S. coincides with low approval of President Trump and one of his signature policies, yet polls still indicate that a third of Mexicans would move to the U.S. if given the opportunity.  Many Mexicans consider President Trump's statements on building a wall offensive and outright racist, yet the societal anomaly of large-scale immigration north by their fellow citizens and family members leaving Mexico goes on.

There were a staggering 5.6 million unauthorized Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. in 2015 and 2016, albeit down from 6.4 million in 2009.  While Mexican migration to the U.S. has slowed, today, Mexico increasingly serves as a land bridge for Central American and Cuban immigrants trekking to the U.S.

It is a grossly abnormal societal aberration that several million Mexican citizens believed they must leave their native homes to migrate north – at great personal risk – to cross the border into the United States.  They crossed the border "illegally" – not obeying established immigration laws of a sovereign country – on the conviction they would have opportunities for better, more prosperous lives that did not exist in Mexico.  In general, widespread conditions in Latin America, brought on by oppressive and autocratic governments, corruption, poor governance, conflicts, persecutions, prejudices, and badly managed economies, drove these emigrants to such extreme actions and beliefs.

Why can Mexico – and other Latin American nations – not have societies and economies with the kinds of opportunities for all of its citizens that so many still believe can be found only north of the border?  Mexico has plentiful natural resources, a favorable geographic location with coasts on two oceans, an abundant supply of labor,the ability to create jobs and manufacturing, and public institutions at least rooted in the traditions of Western civilization.  Why must Mexican citizens face the traumatic dilemmaof leaving their native homes and lands?  Should Mexico, as a nation, not embrace some collective national responsibility for creating societal and economic conditions that would induce Mexican citizens to stay in their native homes instead of emigrating?  And what are the roles and responsibilities of the Mexican government to create and foster the development of such a society?

Mexican politicians have never been vocal in admonishing Mexican society or its politicians for allowing societal conditions to deteriorate such that millions of Mexicans believed they must migrate north for the chance of a better life or would still – to this day – leave Mexico if afforded the opportunity.  There needs to be more of that debate that is just as intense as U.S. deliberations over its own roles, responsibilities, and concerns for allowing immigrants and refugees into the United States.  In fact, for all nations generating large streams of immigrants and refugees, true and lasting solutions to the immigration problemmust address the origins and causes of this modern civilizational phenomenon.

The "greater good" for immigrants and refugees would be served if conditions that drive them to leave could be alleviated so they could instead stay and live prosperous, happy, productive lives in their own native homes and lands.  That would require the greater moral and personal fortitude, leadership, and effort from those nations, governments, and politicians.  When Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto finally meet, maybe that discussion can frame their agenda.

Chris J. Krisinger (colonel, USAF ret.) writes on governance and national security topics.  He lives in Burke, Virginia.

Image: Chatham House via Flickr.

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