President Obama travels to Mexico Thursday morning as the first stop in his Latin America trip, after which he will join other regional leaders in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. Obama will be the first president since Bill Clinton to visit the Mexican capital, according to the New York Times, and his visit comes at a critical time for Mexican-American relations. Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Obama's discussions are expected to traverse a range of issues, including a recent protectionist trade dispute, immigration, the economy and, most urgently, the increased drug-related violence now spilling across the U.S. border, the New York Times reports.[WATCH:]
Obama's Thursday arrival will be in the immediate wake of a major shootout between soldiers and drug traffickers that has left 12 dead, Reuters reports.
But though drug violence will surely top the list of priorities for the visit, others are focusing on the long-time, politically intractable immigration issue. A Dallas Morning News editorial Tuesday, for example, issued a plea for immigration to not be shelved yet again. From Dallas News:
Regardless of priorities though, it is widely agreed that the issues Obama and Calderone seek to address will all require mutual "co-responsibility" -- neither country is insulated from the effects of drug violence, immigration, trade or the global economic crisis. From the Los Angeles Times
Calderón has performed admirably in deploying government forces to confront drug cartels head-on. But Mexico has yet to accept co-responsibility for the illegal immigration problem that has created tremendous political turmoil on this side of the border. Like his predecessors, Calderón has defended illegal immigrants' rights and criticized U.S. efforts to clamp down on unauthorized border crossings.
...Consider this: When people illegally cross the border, their intentions are unknown. They can be drug runners, hit men or kidnappers. More often, they're campesinos heading for better-paying jobs in cities like Dallas. Calderón would not dare criticize the United States for patrolling the border to deter traffickers, killers or kidnappers. But he has repeatedly criticized U.S. efforts to halt illegal immigration.
But beyond spoken commitments, Mexico is looking for concrete assistance in several areas. Powerful drug-trafficking organizations have unleashed a wave of violence that has claimed more than 10,000 lives in just over two years and could threaten the very ability of President Felipe Calderon to govern. Calderon has repeatedly called on Washington to do more to stop the flow of weapons and drug money from the U.S. and to curb the demand for the tons of cocaine and marijuana that Mexican traffickers send northward.
"It is essential that we make the U.S. see the need to fully assume shared responsibility in this fight," Atty. Gen. Eduardo Medina Mora said. "The Obama visit is a chance to cement new cooperation."
And indeed, Obama's visit comes at the heels of a number of other high-level US officials working to build a closer, more workable relationship with Mexico. From the New York Times:
The trip comes on the heels of a string of high-profile visits by administration officials. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have all been to Mexico since taking office. Ms. Napolitano, who will be here along with the president, announced that the administration would move hundreds of federal agents to the 2,000-mile border, and pledged to focus more efforts on stopping the flow of money and weapons from the United States into Mexico. The president's visit, though, takes the effort to a new level. Denis McDonough, senior director for strategic communications on the National Security Council, said the visit was "designed that way to send a very strong signal to President Calderón," and that Mr. Obama "admires his work as it relates to confronting violence and impunity by criminal trafficking organizations."