Earlier this week Foreign Policy reported that the National Security Council under the Biden administration would include a new position tasked with coordinating key issues on the U.S.-Mexico border including the U.S. asylum system and national security challenges stemming from Mexico and Central America.
Career diplomat Roberta Jacobson has been chosen for the position. Before serving as Ambassador to Mexico between 2016 and 2018, she was assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. When she resigned her post in Mexico, she publicly criticized both the narrative and policies adopted by the Trump administration. With Ambassador Jacobson’s appointment we can expect not only a change in tone vis-à-vis Mexico and Mexicans but also expertise second to none about the region, its challenges, and the nuances of the bilateral relationship.
On Tuesday Roberto Velasco, Mexico’s top public official for North America within the Foreign Ministry, wrote about the reasons for optimism in the bilateral relationship. Mr. Velasco cited migration as an area of convergence where both countries want to respect the rights of migrants while also addressing the structural causes for migration by focusing on economic development in the region.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has publicly stated he does not want a “military relationship” nor “military cooperation” with the United States citing instead a relationship built on cooperating for economic development. He has also repeatedly called for non-intervention and respect for national sovereignty, an idea echoed by Mr. Velasco in his op-ed.
Military cooperation, however, has already been built into how Mexico has dealt with migration flows. The Mexican government deployed the recently created (and not really civilian controlled) National Guard to contain migration flows from Central America headed to the U.S.-Mexico border. Even when Mexico claims a desire to exclude “military cooperation” from the bilateral relationship, it is Mexico who has brought it front and center by using the National Guard as an instrument for managing migration. A more relevant question (as I previously wrote) is if the U.S. will call (and potentially offer) Human Rights training for the National Guard as the Biden administration advocates for a humane immigration system and if so, what will Mexico’s response be.
Calls for non-intervention and respect for national sovereignty are meant to cast the U.S. as the meddler but obscure how embedded Mexico is within the United States. The reality for Mexican and American families is not the Battle of Chapultepec. Just a week ago Foreign Minister Ebrard invoked the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to ensure millions of Mexican essential workers in the U.S. receive the vaccine against Covid-19. His statement came after Nebraska Governor suggested undocumented migrants would not be eligible. But as the pandemic has once again demonstrated, migrant workers, undocumented or not, are critical to the U.S. economy across many industries. Eventually Governor Ricketts walked back his comments.
To date, 50 Mexican consulates, the largest consular network any country has within another, are ready to assist 36 million people of Mexican origin who live in the U.S. It is no coincidence that President López Obrador favorably commented on President Biden’s directive to protect the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) that protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. The consular network, has been instrumental, in assisting Mexican nationals eligible for the program since it was launched in June 2012. Individuals, who we may do well in remember, are Mexican by birth but Mexican-American in their way of life.
It is positive that an expert like Ambassador Jacobson will manage key issues of the bilateral relationship. It is constructive that the Mexican government sees and seeks convergence on topics such as migration. But President López Obrador’s ambition of non-intervention pointlessly draws boundaries on a reality that crosses borders.
* Cecilia Farfán Méndez is head of Security Research Programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Twitter: @farfan_cc