WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has his domestic ambition at the top of his travel agenda as he travels to Mexico on Thursday. To sell his immigration overhaul back home, he needs a growing economy in Mexico and a Mexican president willing to help him secure the border.
Obama was to fly to Mexico City on Thursday to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto, eager to promote Mexico's economic success and the neighboring country's place as the second largest export market for U.S. goods and services. Mexicans will be hanging on the president's words, but Obama also has in mind an important audience back in the United States.
Though the role played by Latino voters in last year's U.S. presidential election gets much credit for the current momentum for changing immigration laws and providing a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, another reason for the change in attitudes is that stronger border protections and the recession have been disincentives to cross into the U.S. As a result, illegal immigration has declined.
"With Mexico, first and foremost, they are critical to our ability to secure the border," said Ben Rhodes, an Obama deputy national security adviser. "All the immigration plans that have been contemplated put a focus on securing the border as an essential priority and starting point for immigration reform."
Even better than a strong border is an economy that keeps people from fleeing.
"If the Mexican economy is growing, it forestalls the need for people to migrate to the United States to find work," Rhodes added.
Eager to focus on the economy and immigration, the administration is downplaying Pena Nieto's recent steps to end the broad access Mexico gave U.S. security agencies to help fight drug trafficking and organized crime under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. Still, the changes are likely to be a subject during the two leaders' private talks. Obama said this week he wouldn't judge the new moves until he heard directly from Mexican officials.