Mexico hails Harris after visit, flags more border talks

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris listens as President Joe Biden speaks about the status of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccinations and the administration's ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Mexico’s government on Wednesday praised U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris following talks aimed at curbing undocumented immigration, and said another top Biden administration official would visit next week for more discussions.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called Harris an “extraordinary woman” and said bilateral relations had broken new ground after the two leaders met in Mexico City on Tuesday as part of her first trip abroad since taking office.

“It’s a completely new phase,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference. “It was such a good meeting that I called her ‘president’.”

Tasked by U.S. President Joe Biden with addressing the migration challenge, Harris has been under pressure from both Republicans and Democrats on the issue.

She agreed with Mexico to deepen economic ties and investment to alleviate poverty in Central America and curb immigration, as well as urging Guatemala to crack down on corruption.

Lopez Obrador’s praise for the U.S. vice president contrasted with tensions under former President Donald Trump, who threatened to hurt Mexico economically if it did not reduce illegal immigration.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist, likened the Trump administration to Nazi Germany for its migration policies while he was in opposition, but acceded to the American president’s demands to tighten the border after taking charge of Mexico in December 2018.

Illegal immigration to the United States leapt after Biden took power in January, again making Washington reliant on Mexico’s help to stem the flow.

In contrast to his predecessor, Biden campaigned on a promise to improve the lot of migrants, and a sizeable portion of his Democratic base opposes efforts to curb the movement of people with measures they see as redolent of the Trump era.

Harris drew criticism from some Democrats for telling migrants “Do not come” during a visit to Guatemala earlier in the week before her talks with Lopez Obrador.

Mexico’s importance in managing immigration has given the Lopez Obrador administration leverage to pursue more independent policies in other areas, Mexican officials say privately.

During the U.S. presidential transition, Mexico made it tougher for American law enforcement agents to operate in the country, and Lopez Obrador said approvingly that in his talks with Harris, U.S. security aid for Mexico was not a topic, unlike in past times.

“We don’t want military cooperation,” said Lopez Obrador.

Harris’ visit will be followed by a trip to Mexico by U.S. Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas on June 14 to work with Mexico on how to gradually lift pandemic-related curbs on their shared border, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

The talks with Mayorkas would be held on June 15, he added.

During her visit, Harris also pointed to Washington’s interest in helping Mexico implement a new labor reform to improve workers’ rights, which U.S. trade unions hope will help stem the flow of jobs south to lower-cost Mexico.

Lopez Obrador said Mexico needed to keep raising wages to narrow the gap between U.S. workers and their Mexican counterparts, citing the automotive sector as an example.

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