(Headline USA) President Joe Biden was scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday for discussions the White House says will showcase the underlying strength of a relationship that, of late, has been more notable for the leaders’ disagreements on issues including energy and Ukraine policy.
It was unclear whether remarks by first lady Jill Biden on Monday comparing U.S. Hispanics to breakfast tacos might further compound tensions in the already fraught relationship.
López Obrador, who ran as a socialist but had a much more productive relationship with former President Donald Trump, declined Biden’s invitation to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last month.
Mexico and several other countries with anti-democratic regimes had rged the U.S. to include the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but to no avail.
The Mexican leader also has called U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia “a crass error” and criticized the U.S. for moving more swiftly to provide military funding to Ukraine than financial aid to Central America.
There also are political crosscurrents in Washington, where top Republicans have pointed to a rising number of people from Mexico and Central America crossing the southern U.S. border illegally and have criticized the Democratic president’s administration for not doing more to curb the migration.
It will be the second in-person meeting between Biden and López Obrador at the White House. In addition, they spoke virtually amid the coronavirus pandemic last year and have held several calls.
Jill Biden hosted Mexican first lady Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller during this spring’s White House celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Tuesday’s discussions come just before Biden leaves for Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
Senior Biden administration officials said that the U.S.–Mexico relationship is a priority and that the countries planned to announce joint actions to modernize and improve infrastructure along key parts of the 2,000-mile border, enhance law-enforcement cooperation against fentanyl smuggling and promote clean energy.
They also planned to announce a working group to promote more avenues for legal migration by workers, discussions that the officials said they hoped could eventually be expanded to include labor from other countries.
In a preview call with reporters, administration officials declined to specify which visa programs might be expanded to bolster legal migration or by how much. They said the agreements set to come out of the meeting were more about demonstrating binational cooperation than announcing specific numbers.
The officials also didn’t say whether the Biden administration will urge Mexico to do more to stop people heading through its territory to then cross into the U.S. illegally—a key demand of Biden’s predecessor, Trump.
Instead, the officials said Mexico and the U.S. are equal partners on immigration, and both countries had already previously committed to bolstering mechanisms for processing arriving migrants who ask for asylum, while more efficiently expelling those who don’t qualify.
Despite those claims, the number of illegals flooding into the U.S. has once again begun to surge, including a flood of unaccompanied minors forced to make the dangerous trek by themselves while risking rape, violence and even human slavery at the hands of drug cartels and migrant-smuggling coyotes.
Vice President Kamala Harris—whose appointment as “border czar” has been limited in its scope to exploring the so-called root causes of immigration across Latin America—also plans to host López Obrador in a breakfast Tuesday.
López Obrador has long pushed for expanding U.S. temporary visa programs to workers from Mexico and Central America. He said Monday that increasing legal immigration would help fight inflation by bolstering productivity.
Mexico’s president also has been more vocal about attempting to tamp down inflation than curb climate change or promote energy efficiency.
U.S. officials want him to retreat on his reliance on fossil fuels and his efforts to prioritize his country’s state-owned electricity utility at the expense of foreign-built plants powered by natural gas and renewable energy, another topic that could come up.
It is unclear what the implications might be for Hunter Biden, who previously used his father’s connections to secure meetings with Mexican oligarchs for what he hoped would be a “flippin gigantic” business deal to invest in Pemex, a formerly state-owned oil company, after it went private.
López Obrador has repeatedly criticized the Biden administration, including decrying U.S. efforts to extradite Wikileaks founder Julian Assange from the U.K. for prosecution. He has vowed to bring up the topic during Tuesday’s meeting, and Biden officials say they are ready to discuss it.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press