From immigration to the U.S. elections, issues in the spotlight in 2020
Flags of Mexico and the U.S. are seen before a joint news conference - Photo: Edgard Garrido/REUTERS

From immigration to the U.S. elections, issues in the spotlight in 2020

Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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As the year ends, this Op-Ed reviews big issues regarding Mexico-United States relations from immigration, drug trafficking, and trade to the race for the White House

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From immigration, drug trafficking, and trade to the race for the White House, there are big issues regarding Mexico-United States relations that will be under the spotlight in 2020.

As the year ends, this Op-Ed reviews these issues with particular emphasis on its implications for Mexico, where the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will enter into its second full year on the eve of the crucial midterm elections in 2021.

International trade

This week’s scandal in Mexico about the U.S. Department of Labor inspections allowed by the new United States, Mexico and Canada Agreement (USMCA) has exposed the concessions made by the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) in order to ratify the trade pact and resuming economic growth after it was negotiated in 2017-2018.

The imposition of an addendum with labor, environmental, pharmaceutical and dispute settlement provisions to the USMCA by the U.S. House of Representatives, such as the aforementioned labor inspections—considered a “red line” in Mexico, due to historical and political reasons—was quickly accepted by Under Secretary for Foreign Relations Jesús Seade, lead Mexican negotiator, without the direct participation in the talks of delegates from the Mexican business sector.

When news of labor inspections emerged, Seade immediately flew to Washington and the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent him an official letter explaining that the U.S. administration included language in the USMCA implementing legislation authorizing up to five attachés from the Department of Labor in the American embassy in Mexico City, to work with their local counterparts, “workers, and civil society groups on implementation of the Mexican labor reform.”

This personnel will not be “labor inspectors” and will abide by all relevant Mexican laws, added Lighthizer, while Seade declared himself “very satisfied” by his response.

However, in the final text of the agreement submitted by the Mexican Executive branch to the Senate last May before the addendum’s approval, the labor chapter establishes that the parties may develop cooperative activities in “labor inspectorates and inspections systems, including methods and training to improve the level and efficiency of labor law enforcement, strengthen labor inspection systems, and help ensure compliance with labor laws.”


The good relationship between the governments of AMLO and U.S. President Donald Trump has been cemented by the unprecedented Mexican cooperation to stem the undocumented immigration flows from Central America and other countries. 

To sum up this point, Mexico is not paying for Trump’s border wall, yet it has deployed 60,000 soldiers and National Guard troops in its southern and northern limits operating as a virtual migration agency.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures, the detention of undocumented workers and asylum seekers in the United States decreased from 144,116 in May to 45,250 in October, a 70% reduction that put these numbers back to 2018 levels.

For the first time in 18 months, the majority of the detained migrants and “inadmissible aliens” came from Mexico and not from the Central American Northern Triangle” composed by Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador

As we know, the White House threatened Mexico with the imposition of progressive tariffs for its exports if migration flows were not stopped; for the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, the “purely national strategy” implemented in reaction by AMLO’s government was “successful,” and now it is time for Washington to reciprocate fighting arms trafficking across the border.

Nevertheless, this reduction in Mexico, combined with “zero tolerance” policy in the U.S., hangs in the balance; Central America will remain as a main source of migration as long as the region maintains its low social and economic development, affected by drug trafficking, violence, foreign intervention, and corrupt, incompetent authorities.

Drug trafficking and organized crime

The first bilateral crisis on this topic faced by the Trump administration developed just last month when gunmen ambushed and killed six children and three women from the Mexican-American Mormon family LeBarón in the Western Sierra Madre in Sonora, Mexico. Other six minors resulted wounded during the attack against their three-car convoy.

The massacre, preceded by the withdrawal of Mexican federal forces in Culiacán, Sinaloa, after the capture of Ovidio Guzmán López, son of the Sinaloa Cartel founder Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán—he was released following a series of attacks and road blockades by nearly 200 heavily armed gunmen—led Washington to offer military and police assistance for the investigations and the fight against organized crime.

In a tweet, Trump remarked on November 5 that “this is the time for Mexico, with the help of the U.S., to wage war on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!.” Nonetheless, he said this month he will temporarily hold off designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations at the request of AMLO.

A few days before, Trump seemed to be ready to open the doors to dangerous interventionism in Mexico, saying he would make the designation to disrupt the drug cartels’ finances by imposing sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans, although the measure also met opposition from within his government. Some officials privately warned about the risk of damaging the relations and hindering the Mexican efforts against drugs.

Again, this situation could change according to the political agenda in each country. Just as the immigration issue, drug trafficking has been at the center of Trump’s right-wing, populist message to his electorate base and its use cannot be ruled out during next year’s campaign in the U.S. if Trump survives impeachment.

Since February, U.S. representatives Chip Roy and Mark Green wrote to the State Department asking for the top Mexican drug cartels to be designated as foreign terrorists.

This position is shared by the LeBarón family, who is trying to gather 99,000 signatures through the platform before December 24 in order to achieve a response from Trump.

U.S. presidential election process and Trump impeachment

As the rest of the world, Mexico will be focused on the long battle for the White House that will reach its culmination on November 3, 2020. Voters will select presidential electors who in turn on December 14, 2020, will either elect a new president and vice president or re-elect the incumbents. 

It is worth noting this will be the first time that a sitting president is subject to impeachment at the same time a primary campaign season is underway.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his dealings with Ukraine, so his historic trial in Senate during the primary season would affect those lawmakers running for the Democratic nomination since they will be called to attend the process instead of concentrating on their campaigns.

The Senate vote to remove Trump from office would also likely occur in the middle of the Republican primaries—the party’s national convention formalizing his eventual nomination will be held from August 24 to 27, at Charlotte, North Carolina—with Trump already on the ballot.

At the moment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House could at least temporarily withhold the impeachment articles from the Republican-controlled Senate as a way of potentially forcing majority leader Mitch McConnell to conduct a trial on more favorable terms for Democrats.

If no agreement is reached, reported U.S. media on Thursday, the trial could be delayed indefinitely, denying Trump an expected acquittal that would boost his popularity.

Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate. Conviction and removal require 67 votes. No Senate Republicans have signaled that they would vote to convict Trump, the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the lower chamber.

The author will be on vacation for the next two weeks
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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