President Obama’s sixth trip to Latin America begins on Thursday. Before meeting with leaders of Central American countries in Costa Rica, Obama will visit with the youthful and popular Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto. The invitation comes in the midst of a US domestic debate about comprehensive immigration reform and just a week after the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill was introduced. But Peña Nieto does not have Obama’s agenda on his mind: Immigration is America’s problem to fix. And that should suit both countries just fine.
The last time the United States pushed for immigration reform, Mexico was more than just a bystander. Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox were “frenemies” (Fox once famously called Bush “the cockiest” guy he had ever met) who felt they had a common interest in securing borders, limiting violence, and promoting economic trade. In early 2001, when Bush took office, Mexico’s foreign-policy agenda was part of Bush’s domestic-policy agenda: Stabilize the border and rationalize the immigration status of the millions of Mexicans illegally working in the United States. Then, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 changed America’s priorities.