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MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - MAY 05: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador President of Mexico speaks during the daily briefing at Palacio Nacional on May 05, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador President of Mexico speaks during the daily briefing at Palacio Nacional on May 5, 2021 in Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: Hector Vivas/Getty Images

On Kamala Harris’ immigration meeting with Mexico’s AMLO: Expect the unexpected

The conversation likely won’t stick to immigration.

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When Vice President Kamala Harris was appointed to lead the government's diplomatic efforts in Central America, she became the top official in tackling the deep issues propelling migrants to leave their homes and come to the United States. 

The administration’s own understanding of the driving forces of migration are lacking, as it has yet to discuss its own complicity. The Biden administration has touted its intention to address the driving forces, or “root causes” of migration by traveling to the Northern Triangle, conducting virtual meetings, and to work with government officials on ways to reduce the flow of migrants. 

First, they must pass through the expanse of Mexico. So too must the United States navigate a path forward with President Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), whose own policies directly impact the flow of migration. 

But AMLO will likely not stick to the topic of migration.

Mexico announced on Sunday, May 2, that AMLO will hold talks with Harris on May 7 to discuss the migration predicament, along with the increased number of unaccompanied minors traveling to the U.S. Southern Border. 

But according to diplomats, the virtual meeting will also focus on other matters pertaining to Mexico, including its controversial tree-planting program, which AMLO is trying to get the United States to help fund. According to AMLO’s administration, the program would help curb the spread of migration.  

The program, called “Sembrando Vida,” is AMLO's flagship environmental project, a $3.4 billion tree-planting plan intended to help meet climate goals and fight Mexico’s rampant poverty and inequality. 

On the surface, it looks like a good plan.

It pays around 420,000 farmers 4,500 pesos (about $213) a month to plant trees.

But some critics say it's a guise while the president continues to strengthen Mexico’s own oil industry.

In recent months, he has promoted the use of fossil fuels, while climate change remains one of the driving forces of migration in the northern Triangle, especially after an onslaught of hurricanes experienced in 2020.

“It’s a charade,” journalist Carli Pierson wrote for the Independent, citing expert warnings that people taking part of the program will cut their own trees that are not deforested to receive money for the reforestation project. 

Still, in the recent Global Leaders Climate Crisis forum, AMLO asserted that investment in “Sembrando Vida,” will dissipate the path of migration to the U.S.’s Southern border. 

It is yet to be seen how Harris will respond to Mexico’s request for investment, but she is likely to press Obrador on other issues of migration, which he is also likely to dodge. 

According to Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard on Twitter, Mexico also wants to discuss cooperation for vaccine distribution amid the ongoing pandemic. Mexico, which offers incomplete data on the full extent of COVID-19’s impact, wants the United States to send more vaccines. 

The U.S. has yet to respond, so AMLO is expected to press the issue to Harris. 

But sticking to migration, the task she was set out to do, Harris will want to stick to the root causes the Biden administration has identified to be the main causes of migration. 

Violence against women, the climate crisis, corruption, and poverty are the main talking points that are driving migrants in the Northern Triangle to leave. They’re issues the Mexican president hasn’t been the biggest ally for. 

In recent years, he has cut funding to women’s shelters and outwardly condemned feminists for protesting violence against women. 

While not directly connected to the issues of migration, these stances are connected. So is AMLO’s own outlook on the countries south of Mexico. It's become mainstream to call for comprehensive policies that tackle “root causes,” but such calls seldom acknowledge the U.S. and its heavy hand in the issue. Much less do they call-out Mexico’s own relationship with the migrants that travel through the country. 

Throughout the Trump administration, both nationalist leaders got along so long as they didn’t directly meddle in each other's business, and AMLO largely did as Trump requested migration-wise. 

But Harris isn’t Trump. 

She’s sharp, but AMLO's untraditional diplomatic tactics veer away from commonplace political processes, and it will take some getting used to. In the end, the goal is to reach a relationship that will benefit both parties. But is it possible as things stand? 

The issues cannot and will not be solved in a matter of years, but the groundwork of the U.S.-Mexico relationship is crucial to move forward if we are to make strides in the migration issue in the future. It’s why the AMLO-Harris meeting on May 7 is so important. 

According to government documents obtained by Buzzfeed, U.S. officials will ask Mexico to commit to implementing measures to decrease the number of migrants trying to come to the U.S.

These measures include having Mexican officials prioritize repatriating adults turned back by the U.S. border, increasing apprehensions of immigrants moving through Mexico to an average of 1,000 per day, and taking in more families turned around at the border, according to journalist Hamed Aleaziz. 

How Mexico responds to these requests will be seen tomorrow. 

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