Trump is jeopardizing U.S. ties with Mexico — and there’s a lot at stake

Mexico reevaluates its relationship with the United States, as Trump calls for tougher security measures at the border.

A protester waves a flag composed of elements of the U.S. and Mexican flags in downtown Los Angeles in March 2018, when President Trump went to California to view border wall prototypes. CREDIT: David McNew/Getty Images.
A protester waves a flag composed of elements of the U.S. and Mexican flags in downtown Los Angeles in March 2018, when President Trump went to California to view border wall prototypes. CREDIT: David McNew/Getty Images.

As National Guard troops arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border at the behest of President Donald Trump, Mexico has said that it is reevaluating its relationship with the United States.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has ordered his cabinet to “review all forms of cooperation with the United States, including efforts to combat powerful drug cartels.”

Trade, border security, and migration are also being revisited, and the White House has indicated that it welcomes this review.

Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told Reuters that the review is “not just words” and will have “practical consequences.”


For both sides, and certainly for the United States, there is a lot on the line, said Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

He noted that there’s also never been a terrorist attack in the United States that involved an attacker crossing over from Mexico on to U.S. soil, largely because after the September 2001 attacks, Mexico started sharing all kinds of intelligence with its neighbor to the north about travelers arriving there from countries of concern.

“Mexico goes a step further in that sense and sends passenger manifests and lists to the United States from international flights flying into Mexico,” said Wilson. So everyone who arrives in Mexico, by plane, he explained, is run through U.S. terror databases.

“Mexico is the only country that I know of that voluntarily offers up that information to the United States … not just sharing potential red flags, but allowing the U.S. to run it through our own databases,” he said.

A terror attack in the United States that originates in Mexico would be bad for Mexico too, but worse for the United States. There’s also lots of information sharing on drug trafficking that serves the interests of both countries.


Trump has been riled up about reports of a “caravan” of migrants and potential asylum seekers (perhaps 200 or so) heading to the U.S. border, which has been largely dispersed by Mexican authorities.

“Mexico works very closely with the Unites States and has been doing a lot of work to manage migration flows from Central America. In fact, in 2015, Mexico detained and deported more Central American migrants than the United States did,” Wilson told ThinkProgress. In the years before and since, those detention and deportation figures have been similar to those of the United States.

Mexican lawmakers have been bristling at Trump’s attitude toward Mexico since his campaign, when he accused Mexico of being essentially nothing but a place that exports its “rapists” and drugs to the United States. And immigrants who are neither members of drug cartels nor criminals of any other stripe are still unwelcome, as they steal jobs from Americans, the Trump administration has said.

Peña Nieto has been frustrated with Trump’s stance on Mexico and Mexican workers in the United States. He’s also made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall Trump wants built at the border.


He canceled a visit to the White House in February after a phone call in which Trump refused to publicly acknowledge that Mexico would not fund the wall, insisting, as The Washington Post reported at the time, it was “unreasonable” for Peña Nieto to make him back down from one of his campaign promises.

Peña Nieto took to Twitter last week to post a firm, somewhat terse response to Trump’s accusations that Mexico isn’t doing enough to secure the border:

Wilson said the most effective way to push back against Trump is to communicate to the national security establishment in the United States that Mexico is a vital partner.

“While I’m trying to point out that Mexico will lose out also, if cooperation goes down the drain, the United States would lose immensely if cooperation with Mexico goes down the drain,” he added.

Trump was supposed to meet with Pena Nieto in the Summit of the Americans in Peru this week. But the White House on Tuesday morning said Trump would not be attending the event, opting to stay in the United States to “oversee the American response to Syria,” where a horrific chemical attack killed around 80 people, including many children.

Vice President Mike Pence will be sent to Peru instead, and will have to fill in for President Trump on talks that will include reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement, another deal (between Canada, the United States, and Mexico) that Trump wants renegotiated or killed.

This might not be a bad thing, said Wilson, who said the negotiators are under “immense pressure” from the Trump administration to have something to show at the summit in Lima. Now, with a bit more breathing room, they might have until May 1, when steel and aluminum tariff exemptions granted to Mexico and Canada by the U.S. are set to expire.