The Mexican president made his second visit to the White House on Tuesday as Biden officials said they were about to increase the number of temporary visas from Mexico and Central America. The move comes at a time when migration is increasingly increasingly from the Northern Triangle in Central America to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
The left-handed leader had a lengthy discussion with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office before the two secretly discussed the difficulties their neighbors had shared.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met Biden at the White House in late 2021, at a three-way summit with Canada.
On Tuesday, the left-hander was with Biden alone in the Oval Office.
Biden laughed out loud when López Obrador, through an interpreter, spoke for more than half an hour on economic issues – “the reality we live in makes it even more important and necessary for us to make everything we eat in our countries and regions,” he said – as well as American political controversies.
“I know your enemies, law-abiding citizens, are screaming everywhere,” López Obrador said with a laugh. “Even in heaven, they will be crying out to heaven.”
Both leaders expressed that their past disagreements, although not forgotten – and perhaps not forgiven – were strong in the past.
“Despite our differences and our grievances that are not easily forgotten – even with good times or intentions, often – we are able to meet and work together as good friends and allies,” said López Obrador.
“This is a relationship that has a profound impact on the daily lives, everyday lives of our people,” Biden said. “And even though we have a lot of topics that we see sometimes, you and I have a strong and rewarding relationship.”
Enhancing legal options for immigrants
This, Biden’s officials said, is reflected in their decision to extend legal options for American immigrants. The US Border Patrol said the number of those trying to cross had increased. In the 2021 financial year, the border army met 684,000 at the southwestern border, up from 400,000 last year.
“We think we are achieving the goal of increasing the number of temporary H-2 visas for Central Americans this year,” Katie Tobin, executive director of transborder at the National Security Council, told VOA when the two presidents met.
“This is at the heart of Biden ‘s policy on how we want to tackle migration,” he said. “We know that if we are to reduce the number of migrants and rely on criminal networks, we need to develop legal mechanisms.”
We look forward to 2024
While it is clear that the President of Mexico visited the White House twice in less than a year, the former Mexican ambassador to the US told VOA that López Obrador’s main focus is on housing.
When López Obrador visited Washington three times – and New York, once – as president, he has only traveled five times in other countries since he was elected to a six-year term in 2018.
“I do not think López Obrador will be a bridge to Latin America because López Obrador is not interested in foreign policy,” Arturo Sarukhan told VOA, via Zoom, London.
“This is the man who led his presidential campaign by saying that the best foreign policy is domestic,” Sarukhan added. “I think the key to the summit in Washington today is President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that US-Mexico relations continue, especially as both countries remember every 12 years Mexico and the United States hold presidential elections that year.”
The next US-Mexico eclipse is coming in 2024.
VOA’s Jorge Agobian and Chris Hannas contributed to the project.