Mexican President Nieto Acquiesces to Trump’s Border and Deportation Policies
Law professor John Ackerman explains why President Enrique Pena Nieto offers no pushback despite that Donald Trump’s policies and Nieto himself are both deeply unpopular among Mexicans
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly arrived in Mexico on Wednesday to smooth out fraying relations between the United States and Mexico. Tillerson and Kelly arrived just as the Trump Administration publicized a newly issued immigration policy that threatens to dramatically increase the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants. The government of Mexico reacted to the new policy, calling it unprecedented. During a press conference in Mexico City on Thursday, Secretary Kelly tried to reassure Mexicans that the new policy was not as dramatic as it sounded. Let’s have a look.
JOHN KELLY: Now, this is something I would really like you all to pay attention to because it is frequently misrepresented or misreported in the press. Let me be very, very clear. There will be no, repeat no, mass deportations. Everything we do in DHS will be done legally and according to human rights and the legal justice system of the United States. All deportations will be according to our legal justice system, which is extensive and includes multiple appeals. The focus of deportations will be on the criminal elements that have made it into the United States. All of this will be done as it always is in close coordination with the government of Mexico.
SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now from Mexico City to talk about the visit is John Ackerman. Professor Ackerman teaches at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. He’s also Editor-in-Chief of the Mexican Law Review and a columnist with La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine. Thanks so much for joining us today, John.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Thank you, Sharmini — a pleasure as always.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, John, what has been the reaction so far from the Mexican media, say the public, to the Tillerson, Kelly visit? I guess I should add the government of Mexico here as well. What are they saying?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Well, they’re just trying to kind of pretend that nothing is happening. It’s really kind of sad really, from my point of view. The Mexican government is, you know you saw that in the Kelly statement, that Mexican officials are saying the same thing that, you know, we’re working together. We’ve agreed that neither country is going to take unilateral action, while accepting the fact that, of course, the United States is going to take unilateral action. And basically the Mexican government is offering to work with Kelly and with Tillerson and with Trump on the mass expulsion of Mexicans from the United States to Mexico. There’s no backbone at all in the response by the Mexican government.
And of course, the national media in Mexico is controlled very much by the President’s office. So, they’re trying to present this as, you know, the most cordial relationship between the two sides. That this is what benefits most benefits Mexico as supposedly having a strong but kind position. But it’s not a strong position at all. You know, really Pena Nieto is helping Trump out. There’s nothing going on that side. So, from the point of view of Mexican society, this is very disturbing, you know.
So, last night when Kelly and Tillerson arrived they went and had dinner at the private of the US Ambassador to Mexico along with the Secretary of Foreign Relations, Videgaray but also the two heads of the Mexican military. The Secretary of the Defense and the Secretary of the Marines, both of them were dining over probably fine wine and champagne with Tillerson and Kelly, getting along just well. This is pretty scary for Mexicans because this means that the Mexican armed forces are basically kowtowing to, and at the service of, Trump’s military expansionist tendencies.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, at the announcement of this holding cell, where there was a back and forth between Trump and Pena Nieto about Mexican illegal immigrants being returned to Mexico whether they are Mexican or otherwise — there was a bit of a tit for tat over that. What did you make of that? This is President Pena Nieto refusing to accept any of these immigrants that were coming, or being returned to Mexico rather.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Well, it was kind of a show by Pena Nieto to try and, you know, demonstrate that he’s resisting some of the actions by Trump. But this is not actually going to happen. It’s very… if mass expulsions start… has already been some pretty serious expulsions already under Obama. But if they start to happen in large numbers, the Mexican government is not going to be able to, or even want to, look at the nationalities of these migrants, unless they were really in a more aggressive attitude towards Trump.
You know, this has not happened in the past when Central American migrants are caught at the border, they’re immediately returned to Mexico. Mexico doesn’t have its own, you know, border police who are checking documents as people come back across the border. They’re just there as more of an official check points and so, you know, if Trump really wants to send back all the Central Americans to Mexico, he’ll be able to do so. And the Mexican government is not standing up to Trump. This is the painful fact for Mexicans on this side of the border of Mexico and also for Mexicans in the United States. And that’s the real shame that, you know, Pena Nieto is not defending the millions of Mexicans, both legal and illegal, or undocumented, who live in the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES: Why is he doing that? I mean, Pena Nieto’s approval ratings as is are rather low and he could probably get a boost if he were to stand up to Trump but he’s not doing that. Why?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Well, because he is absolutely beholding to an elite, economically empowered class, an oligarchy in Mexico, who is not at all in the interests of any kind of conflict between the United States and Mexico. They have investments diversified on both sides of the borders. They’re very worried about, for instance, the value of the peso. If there was an open conflict between Pena Nieto and Trump, the Mexican peso would probably tank the next day.
And so, they just want to… you know… They’re concerned about negotiating NAFTA, so it’s in their interest. And so there are, you know, transnational corporate interests who are, you know, holding Pena Nieto down to make sure he doesn’t… he’s not too influenced by those very few nationalist elements which are still in his government. There are not many left, most of them are in the opposition, but the result has been, of course, a strengthening of the candidacy for Obrador towards 2018. And so this is, you know, the hopeful silver lining to all this.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. But however the recent Trump Administration’s attacks, not only on Mexicans here in the United States, but the talk of the wall, you know, who’s going to pay for the border wall, the unfair treatment, the cancellation of NAFTA — all of these play into very anti-Mexican sentiments coming out of Washington.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yes.
SHARMINI PERIES: How are the people reacting to this?
JOHN ACKERMAN: The people are pretty upset. There is definitely a generalized indignation among the Mexican population, concern about family members who are in the United States. You know, just about anybody you know in Mexico has at least some relative, once or twice removed at maximum, who lives in the United States or has been there. There’s been incredible transnational movement of people and so, this is in the end definitely hurting the legitimacy of the Pena Nieto government, which is already on the floor.
This is a very complicated political situation in Mexico today and Pena Nieto just seems to not quite get it, or quite care, or, like I said, be interested in other interests. You know, the old PRI. Pena Nieto is from the PRI, the Party of the Institutional Revolution. The old PRI of the ’50’s and ’60’s was very authoritarian, just as authoritarian as Pena Nieto is today, but they at least had this kind of, perhaps hypocritical, but a commitment to basic principles of national sovereignty.
In the past, the Mexican government has even, you know, brought cases against the US government or other governments to the International Court of Human Rights, other international bodies, the UN itself, but today Videgaray threatens, you know, if things keep getting bad he might bring something to the International Court of Human Rights or the UN, but he hasn’t done anything. And so, it seems like, you know, they’re just kind of waiting to see… waiting for Trump to chill out, calm down and come into reason. But I think you guys in the United States have already waited enough and are making some clear decisions against Trump, which sounds good. In Mexico we need to do the same but unfortunately, our government is not with us on that.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, if the Trump Administration carries out what they say they’re going to do — more deportations back to Mexico, this could seriously have economic implications on Mexico, since Mexicans remit almost, I believe, it is like $25 billion to Mexico. And if people were deported, that money wouldn’t go there. Plus, it would actually increase the number of people trying to get over to the United States as a result of the reduction of these remittances. What do you make of that?
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yes, exactly, this could seriously affect the Mexican economy. Remittances are, you know, the third largest source of foreign currency in Mexico, after oil and tourism. Although, you know, you’ve got to count drugs into that as well. So, it’s you know, third or fourth, but it’s one of the major sources of foreign funds for Mexico. If we were to lose a large amount of that that would definitely affect the Mexican economy. If, in addition the US businesses were to, you know, pull out in mass from Mexico and come back to the United States, this would also affect the Mexican economy.
And like you said, this would increase the push factors towards Mexicans to migrate to the United States, which would, you know, force… or not force, but would lead Trump to have a good excuse to, he said this today, right, militarize the border. He’s definitely thinking about putting the National Guard out there in addition to the wall. This could be a really tragic situation because there are also, you know, more than a million people cross the border every day legally. Mexicans do their shopping in the United States. Americans come south to do business in Mexico. And so, to really sort of turn this into a new Berlin Wall could hurt the Mexican economy, but it could also have a significant impact on the United States. Mexico is the third largest trading partner for the United States and, you know, we are very much intertwined as economies.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And I understand also the number one importer of oil in terms of countries is Mexico as well, when it comes to the United States.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Right.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, here the Trump Administration is also proposing to introduce a whole bunch of tariffs on these imports as well. It’s crazy times.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Yes. Yes. So, the only optimism here is the stupidity of the powerful, right? So you know, it seems like Trump has a reduced enough intelligence that he’s going to, he already has been, and is going to continue to commit all sorts of mistakes. Which Mexico on one hand and, you know, progressive forces in the United States, we’re going to have to be ready to pounce on it every minute. And one of those mistakes, for instance in Mexico, is, you know, attack on Pena Nieto in Mexico. What this is leading to in the media in the long or even in the short run, is to an effervescence of political organizing and social discontent, which could lead to a political transformation in Mexico, which would not be favorable to Trump.
SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, Professor Ackerman, I thank you so much for joining us today. And we’re going to continue our conversation in another part related to something you said earlier, which is the candidacy of the next President of Mexico, Manuel López Obrador. So, thank you for now.
JOHN ACKERMAN: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.