Mexico's New President To Talk Immigration, Drug War, Trade With President Obama

PHOTO: Mexicos President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto delivers a speech during an event in Mexico City, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012.

Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will meet President Barack Obama for the first time on Tuesday and the leaders have some weighty issues on their agenda.

According to the White House, the leaders will meet for under an hour while trying to tackle everything from economic development, trade, immigration, and "common security challenges" (read: the drug war). But first and foremost, the leaders will need to establish a rapport that could define their relationship for the next four years.

"He's got to establish a personal connection with President Obama," said Eric Farnsworth, the vice president of the Council of the Americas in charge of the organization's Washington, D.C. office, said Peña Nieto. "This is a get to know you session."

The 46-year-old president to be has much to prove.

A newcomer to the world stage, Peña Nieto, must prove he is committed to democracy since his Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) ruled Mexico with an autocratic iron first for nearly 70 years and became notorious for its rampant corruption.

The president-elect has said he represents a new breed of PRI leaders, but according to Farnsworth, "The president elect has the burden of proof on his shoulders that he is not of the old PRI and that this is a new day."

Mexico's reputation in the United States has reached a nadir. Nearly six in ten Americans see Mexico as a source of problems for the U.S. rather than a good partner and neighbor, according to a recent study commissioned by Vianovo and GSD&M. That does not bode well for a country that's one of the U.S.'s top trading partners.

Immigration

President Obama has said that immigration will be one of his top domestic priorities during his first year in office, but expect Peña Nieto to urge him further to take up the issue.

Mexico's political leaders have constantly prodded the U.S. to pass a reform bill that addresses the status of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country as well as issues like the flow of migrant labor. Fifty-eight percent of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

"I think the president elect is going to encourage Obama to move forward on immigration reform," said Farnsworth, a former official at the State Department and in the Clinton White House on Latin American affairs. "There are obvious implications for Mexico as well."

Propelled into office by the support of 71 percent of Latino voters, who for the first time made up 10 percent of the electorate, Obama stated that he would make immigration a priority.

At a news conference one week after he is elected, Obama said that "we need to seize the moment" and pass an immigration bill, adding that he expects a bill could be introduced shortly after he's inaugurated for a second term in January.

"I am very confident we can get immigration reform done," he said.

Peña Nieto echoed Obama's optimism in a Washington Post op-ed published on Nov. 23.

"Some analysts detect new momentum for comprehensive immigration reform since the U.S. presidential election. All Mexicans would welcome such a development," he said.

Farnsworth said that it's unlikely that Peña Nieto will endorse policy specifics for the U.S. since he is a foreign leader, but seeing that both leaders agree on the need for reform, they can talk broadly about the immigration issue.

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