Biden’s Mexico visit: A change in strategy or more of the same?

January 08, 2023

By Chad Wolf

President Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to reverse his administration’s legacy of border security failures during the upcoming North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City. The United States and Mexico have a shared interest in each country securing its respective borders, but over the past two years, the Biden administration’s failed border policies have inflicted significant harm to both countries. This meeting is a critical opportunity to roll out a new strategy. Having been closely involved in advising former President Trump during his own negotiations with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), I offer President Biden the following advice on how he can finally implement an America First border plan that is beneficial for both nations. 

To put an end to the unprecedented human trafficking event that has persisted over the last two years, President Biden must have a tough conversation with President AMLO that establishes clear deliverables and concrete benchmarks each country is responsible for. As a first step, President Biden should be willing to acknowledge the crisis that exists at the border and that the status quo isn’t working. Being willing to respond to circumstances as they are and change direction when needed — as is the case now — is a sign of leadership that will influence President AMLO to reciprocate in kind. 

As we saw during the Trump administration, when the U.S. takes its border security responsibilities seriously, progress can be made with President AMLO. When President Trump threatened tariffs, President AMLO proved he was capable of being a team player in curbing illegal migration. In 2019, President AMLO activated the equivalent of the Mexican National Guard to secure its southern border with Guatemala, stopped issuing work permits to illegal aliens, and ended the south-north train known as “the Beast” that illegal migrants were hopping on to expedite their journey to the U.S. Most importantly, the Trump administration negotiated President AMLO’s support of the highly successful Remain in Mexico policy, where illegal aliens waited until their immigration court dates in the U.S. This is what a productive bilateral relationship looks like. 

Next, the Biden administration needs to offer creative new tactics that both countries should take to defeat the cartels. In addition to a shared border, both countries have a shared Public Enemy No. 1: the ruthless Mexican cartels. For multiple decades, both countries have relied heavily on law enforcement in the war against the cartels. This approach alone is not working, and both countries would be wise to use all resources available including military options, cyber measures, and enhanced pressure on the financial services industry to freeze assets. For far too long both countries have avoided this problem. It’s time to get serious. 

These recommendations are needed because the open border policies the Biden administration put in place on day one upended that relationship. President AMLO rationally concluded that it was no longer worthwhile to expend resources enforcing his country’s immigration laws when the Biden administration was encouraging economic migrants around the world to come to the U.S. by refusing to enforce U.S. immigration law at the border or within American communities. He even acknowledged that migrants “see [Biden] as the migrant president, and so many feel they’re going to reach the United States” and that both countries “need to work together to regulate the flow.” 

Worse still, the mass migration to the U.S. southern border has undermined Mexico’s efforts to defeat the cartels. Every illegal immigrant smuggled or trafficked to the U.S. border is required to pay the cartels tens of thousands of dollars in fees. In just a few years, the Mexican cartels are now bringing in $13 billion a year transporting illegal immigrants compared to $50 million a year toward the end of the Trump administration. This financial largesse empowers the cartels to purchase military-grade weapons and has produced an untold number of Mexican civilian casualties as the cartels engage in turf wars over these highly lucrative channels of trafficking people and drugs. At the center of the bilateral relationship should be strong and cooperative action against these bad actors, who are our common enemies. 

President Biden can put an end to this vicious cycle by coming to the table with new policies that secure the border, end human trafficking, and defeat the cartels. This will give the Biden administration the leverage they need to compel President AMLO to step up efforts on his side of the border.  

Will President Biden step up and be the leader the American people need him to be at this critical juncture? 

Read Chad Wol's Op-Ed in The Hill here

Chad Wolf is the former Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Executive Director and Chair of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute