President Obama spent three days last week traveling to Mexico as well as Costa Rica—his first second-term trip to Latin America. Mexico is the United States’ third largest trading partner, behind Canada and China, in terms of total goods, and the U.S. is Mexico’s largest trading partner. In addition, the largest share of immigrants who come to the U.S. are from Mexico. The President’s trip is a reminder of what an important partner Mexico, and much of Latin America, is to the U.S. Keeping these dynamics in mind is key particularly at a time when some in Congress want to spend more and more at the southern border in an attempt to seal the U.S. off completely from one of our largest economic partners. It’s no wonder then that the President used the trip to discuss both the economic and immigration ties between our nations.
At a forum in Costa Rica, for example President Obama said the U.S.’s economic future is tied to Latin America because, “If you are doing well, we will do better. And if we are doing well, we think your situation improves.” He argued that improving the economic growth and job opportunities could help resolve the region’s security issues, like gang violence and drug trafficking. And less violence and better opportunities at home would hopefully be a “long-term solution to the challenge of illegal immigration,” Obama said.
The president also used his trip to address border issues and the concerns from some members of Congress who have said the U.S. border with Mexico has to be secure before undocumented immigrants can earn citizenship. He said he is working to see if Mexico can share some of the border security costs. “When it comes to borders, they’re shared,” he said. “Are there ways in which we can share some of the costs of continual infrastructure upgrades?” And during his Saturday radio address, Obama repeated the fact that the U.S. has more agents patrolling the border than at any other time and that illegal border crossings are down almost 80 percent from the peak in 2000. “The truth is, right now, our border with Mexico is more secure than it’s been in years,” he said. In other words, short of sealing ourselves off completely at our southern border, we have done much of what is to be done to make the southern border safe.
The President also told a crowd in Mexico that he is “convinced” Congress can pass a bill this year to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. “I’m optimistic that—after years of trying, we are going to get it done this year. I’m absolutely convinced of it,” he said.
President Obama’s trip to Mexico and Costa Rica is a good reminder that the U.S. remains closely connected to its regional neighbors.