Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto tried to explain to Donald Trump how things look from the south side of the US-Mexican border.
Yes, illegal immigration to the US is a challenge, he said during a brief press conference after their meeting Aug. 31, but so are the weapons and money that are flowing south into Mexico and empowering drug cartels.
“Many lives can be saved on both sides of our border if criminal organizations stop receiving the quantities of weapons and cash that today allow them to carry out their criminal business,” he said. Some 70% of the 100,000 or so guns confiscated in Mexico between 2009 and 2014 were traced back to the US.
His message appeared to sink in—somewhat. In the same press conference, an uncharacteristically sedate Trump acknowledged the bilateral relation between the US and Mexico is a two-way street. And although he stood firm on his plans to build a border wall, he did have the good judgement of not asking Mexicans to pay for it while he was a guest in their country.
Even as it was widely condemned by locals, the Republican presidential nominee’s visit to Mexico provided a rare opportunity for the country’s top politician to bring up some sore points about its relationship with the US. Mexican diplomats have been trying to change the border narrative that prevails in Washington D.C. for years, without much traction.
For example, while Trump and other US politicians want to close off the border, Mexicans (and some US politicians in border states) have long argued it needs to be opened wider to speed up the gargantuan amount of trade already happening between the two countries. Peña Nieto hinted at that, saying that both countries should bump up investments to increase infrastructure, personnel, and technology along the border to make it more efficient and safer.
He pointed out that US workers and companies benefit from their country’s commercial ties with Mexico, rattling off a slew of statistics to prove it: American exports to Mexico worth some $200 billion a year generate more than six million jobs in the US; 40% of the components that make up American imports from Mexico—the ones responsible for the US’s “unbelievably big, humongous” trade deficit often quoted by Trump—were originally produced in American factories.
Peña Nieto also took advantage of the international attention to rectify the wrong impression one might get from Trump’s speeches about Mexican immigrants supposedly flooding the border. In fact, he said, illegal immigration from Mexico has peaked, and the number of non-Mexicans entering the US illegally has grown.
“Mexicans in the US are honest and hard-working people… who respect family, who respect community life and who respect the law,” he said in response to Trump’s comments that Mexico sends its worst the US. “Mexicans deserve everyone’s respect.”
He fell short of demanding an apology and publicly rebuking Trump’s border wall, though, angering many Mexicans.
“Who was the idiot who told EPN that it was a good idea to invite Trump? It deserves a lobotomy,” tweeted this economics professor.
“Home-delivered humiliation,” tweeted another observer.
Another tweet summed up the visit with an image: