Immigration Reform 2013: How Obama is Selling It in Mexico


President Obama will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and other Latin American leaders over the next few days, and immigration reform is going to be a priority on the agenda. However, President Nieto is likely to play it cool and allow the U.S. to proceed with reforms at its own pace.

By characterizing the ongoing immigration debate in the U.S. as an 'American problem,' President Nieto tactfully allows other stories to dominate the conversation over Mexican immigrants. It may seem counter-intuitive for the Mexican president to lay low in his public opinions about immigration reform, but this is a tacit play to help ease reform through. 

12 million Mexican immigrants live in the U.S. according to the Pew Hispanic Center, half of whom are here without legal authorization and will be affected by the outcome of the immigration reform. Republicans who have been stalling progress on the immigration bills would jump at the opportunity to denounce any action sanctioned by President Nieto if he were to issue any emphatic statements demanding action from President Obama or Congress. 

President Obama will likely focus on changing the perception of Mexico and Mexican immigrants in the debate. Escalating drug violence and sustaining a healthy economy are the two major crises facing Mexico today, and are primary causes of the instability that forces Mexicans to leave the country.

If President Nieto succeeds in keeping citizens in Mexico, then securing the border will not loom large as a needed investment, effectively removing it as a political rallying point for Republicans.

Ben Rhodes, a deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, explains this further: "All the immigration plans that have been contemplated put a focus on securing the border [with Mexico] as an essential priority and starting point for immigration reform...If the Mexican economy is growing, it forestalls the need for people to migrate to the United States to find work."

Mexico's drug violence is hemorrhaging society even more severely than the economy, and presents both presidents with a common enemy to battle for political wins. President Nieto has further expanded access to U.S. security agencies to crack down drug trafficking and organized crime on Mexican territory.

Should President Nieto have a strong voice in the immigration debate? Is this strategic tactic likely to succeed? Discuss with me below or on Twitter @shwetika.