For Pena Nieto, Obama's visit is a chance for him to showcase his country's economic gains. After suffering along with the U.S. during the recession, its economy is now growing at a better clip than that of the U.S. Per capita income has gone from an annual $7,900 two years ago to $10,146. But Diana Negroponte, a Latin America expert at the Brookings Institution, says corruption remains endemic, human rights are still a problem, and efforts to change and improve the judicial system have been too slow.
"There is concern on our side of the border that greater help needs to be given in order for Mexico to reform its system," she said.
Pena Nieto's changes in the security relationship with the U.S. have prompted some U.S. officials to speculate that the new president might be embracing the policies of his Institutional Revolutionary Party, which long has favored centralized political and bureaucratic control.
Among those watching the new steps is Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has held up $228 million sought by the Obama administration for Mexico under a security cooperation agreement. Under the agreement, known as the Merida Initiative, Congress has already given Mexico more than $1.9 billion in aid since 2008.
But Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department budget, has been a critic of how the money has been used and with the results.
"Congress has been asked for a significant new investment, but it's not clear what the new Mexican government's intensions are," Leahy said in a statement to The Associated Press. "We're in a period of uncertainty until we know enough to be able to reset that part of our relationship. I'm not ready to sign off on more money without a lot more details."