Keeping with the tradition to meet with Mexico’s president before being sworn in, President-elect Barack Obama met with Mexico President Felipe Calderón on Monday to discuss border issues. The meeting was held at the Mexican Cultural Institute and marks Obama’s first meeting with a foreign leader since his winning the election to the U.S. presidency.
“President-elect Obama was very pleased to meet today with Mexico’s President Calderón, and he hopes this early meeting helps emphasize the high importance he places on a strong and deep relationship with Mexico,” said incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in a public statement.
Among the topics discussed were immigration, trade, and security. How to better tackle the drug cartels was also a topic of concern. Last year alone, the Mexican drug cartels killed close to 5,700 people in Mexico. The U.S. Justice Department called the Mexican drug cartels the largest organized crime threat to the United States in their 2009 National Drug Threat Assessment.
Obama expressed his belief that the Mérida Initiative can help the U.S. to aid Mexico in its anti-drug initiatives. Through the Mérida Initiative last year, the United States gave Mexico $300 million in aid to help the Mexican government confront the drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
“On security, President-elect Obama underscored his interest in finding ways to work together to reduce drug-related violence,” Gibbs said.
“He told President Calderón that he intends to ask the Secretary of Homeland Security to lead an effort to increase information sharing to strengthen those efforts. He pledged to take more effective action from the United States to stem the flow of arms from the United States to Mexico,” he said.
Obama told Calderón that it will be important for the U.S. and Mexico to work more closely together to make it through the economic crisis. Among his commitments were to strengthen the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S. and Mexico. He also proposed to create a consultative group to help the two countries better address issues they are facing.
In Obama’s agenda on immigration, the President-elect said that he will work to decrease illegal immigration by changing the way the issue is currently handled in the U.S. At the meeting, “He expressed his strongly held view that immigrants should be treated with dignity and that the immigration debate should not be a vehicle for vilifying any group, and that our two countries need to work more effectively to stop the flow of illegal immigration into the United States,” Gibbs said.
Douglas Rivlin, a spokesperson with the National Immigration Forum said that proposed reforms to the U.S. immigration system and cross-border relations has been long overdue.
“The United States and Mexico have been talking about immigration reform that makes immigration from Mexico to the United States much more orderly and happening through legal channels,” said Rivlin. “Right now we have a system that makes legal immigration extremely difficult so a lot of people are choosing to go around the system than through it.”
“It’s important to recognize, especially for the U.S. audience, that Felipe Calderón is really the second president that Mexico has had that you could say was legitimately democratically elected,” he said.
“For 70 years before Vicente Fox, it was basically a one-party rule and whether you like Fox and Calderón or not, it is an important moment for the United States to be reaching out to democracies anywhere, but particularly the one that’s right next door.”