With the immigration debate heating up in Washington, D.C., President Obama heads south of the border Thursday, embarking on a three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica as he tries to focus discussions on the economic ties between the United States, Mexico and Central America.
On his fourth trip to Mexico since becoming president, Obama will engage in conversations with newly installed President Enrique Peña Nieto that are intended to extend beyond security concerns and focus heavily on the economic relationship between Mexico and the U.S.
"A lot of the focus is going to be on economics," Obama said during a news conference Tuesday. "We've spent so much time on security issues between the United States and Mexico that sometimes I think we forget this is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border. We want to see how we can deepen that, how we can improve that and maintain that economic dialogue over a long period of time."
Tied in with the economic interests between the two countries is a belief that a strong Mexican economy could help alleviate some of the causes of illegal immigration to the U.S., a point that will be raised as Congress works on an immigration overhaul.
"Mexico is an important partner in immigration reform given that we work with them every day to secure our border," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications at the White House, told reporters Wednesday. "Economic development in Mexico will also ultimately get at the root cause of illegal immigration to the United States, so that's another benefit of the economic growth underway in Mexico."
The president flies down to Mexico on Thursday and will hold a bilateral meeting with Peña Nieto after which the two leaders will participate in a news conference and hold a working dinner together Thursday evening.
On Friday, the president will deliver a speech at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City to an audience mostly consisting of university students as he outlines the path forward for the two neighboring countries.
"This will be an opportunity for the president to look forward in our relationship and speak about those economic ties, but also the education, cultural and people-to-people exchanges that define the relationship," Rhodes told reporters Wednesday.
Following the speech, Obama will meet with Mexican entrepreneurs to discuss the economic growth in the country before heading to Costa Rica.
In his first trip to Costa Rica and his sixth trip to the region as president, Obama will hold a bilateral meeting and news conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, as well as participate in a multilateral summit of leaders of Central American nations, including Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, where he plans to discuss security, immigration and economic issues.
The president will also meet with business leaders from those countries before returning to the White House on Saturday.