Six months into his presidency, Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Amador probably has spent more time than he’d like dealing with immigration issues. Swarms of people fleeing persecution and violence in Central America have trekked through his country trying to find refuge in the United States, while U.S. President Donald Trump has been trying to keep them — and Mexico’s own emigrants — out.
Best known by his initials, AMLO has long said he aimed to reduce Mexicans’ flight north by creating economic opportunities for them at home. After the Trump administration’s initial efforts to keep the Central American migrants in Mexico, Lopez Obrador extended them his invitation to also stay and help develop Mexico’s economy.
Could he be looking to take the mantle the U.S. has long held as the nation of immigrants?
Certainly, the sheer numbers of Central American migrants has overwhelmed Mexico just as it has the United States, and AMLO has responded to threats of economic sanctions from the north by deploying troops to Mexico’s southern border to try to deter recent migrant caravans.
However, Lopez Obrador on Thursday reiterated that the right to asylum is sacred, and is “planted within Mexico’s foreign policy.”
“(I)n these times in which we are tending to the migration issue, we are always going to treat migrants with respect and give them protection,” he said during a news conference that promised a more detailed immigration plan would be released today.
His overtures to migrants have had an effect. Requests for asylum in Mexico have increased drastically and the country’s issuance of humanitarian visas has risen significantly, QZ news network has reported. However, many migrants say they’re afraid of staying in Mexico, where drug-related violence is rampant.
Still, his assurances of respect could inspire many migrants to set down their roots south, rather than north, of the Rio Grande. And Mexico is likely to benefit, just as our own country has benefited in the past.
Our own history is filled with stories of the foreign nationals who built the infrastructure that enabled millions of Americans’ own migration, from east to west. Immigrants, who to this day open more businesses per capita than native-born Americans do, helped build the largest and strongest economy in the world. And, as many accounts confirm, many of them fought to defend our freedoms and advance our interests, many times against their own former homelands.
Maybe AMLO shares many Mexicans’ affection for the late U.S. President John Kennedy, and has read his famous essay that coined the term “A Nation of Immigrants.” Kennedy noted that all waves of immigrants have faced resistance, but overcome it and made their new home even stronger. Rather than corrupt American culture, they added new color to it, helping to create “a heterogeneous race but a homogenous nation.”
We hope AMLO’s efforts pay off — not only because it will give the persecuted people of Central America a place where they can build new lives, but also because it promises to bring Mexico the benefits of new ideas and resources to make the country stronger, both economically and culturally.