Latino lawmakers, group blast Trump White House meeting with Mexico's López Obrador

The president is trying to divert attention from the toll coronavirus has taken, especially on Latinos, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair says.
Image: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference in Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico, on June 4, 2020.Mexico's Presidency / via Reuters file

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By Suzanne Gamboa

Latino lawmakers and a national Latino group are blasting President Donald Trump for scheduling a visit of Mexico’s president to the White House amid rising coronavirus cases and despite policies that have targeted Mexican and Central American migrants.

Mexico President Andres Manuel López Obrador left his country Tuesday for the meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

The White House billed the visit as a celebration of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, the trade treaty that took effect July 1, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to skip the meeting.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquín Castro slammed Trump for engaging in political spin to distract from his “failure to contain” the coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately affected Latinos in some states.

CHC members signed a July 1 letter to Trump that said holding the meeting while members were in their districts addressing the needs of communities devastated by the pandemic is a “blatant attempt to politicize the important U.S.-Mexico relationship along partisan lines.”

The lawmakers pointed to border states such as Arizona and Texas, where COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been escalating, while the American death toll rises and the economy sinks.

They added that any meeting with Mexico should include discussions of the 4,000 troops that remain at the border and consideration of ending Trump policies forcing asylum seekers to wait out their cases in Mexico.

"I would not have visited Donald Trump"

Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” asylum policies have put migrants at risk of cartel violence and human trafficking and coronavirus infection, Castro said. In addition, his administration has helped spread COVID-19 through deportations to Mexico and Central America, Castro said.

“Make no mistake, from separating families and putting kids in cages to trying to deport Dreamers, President Trump is hell bent on inflicting cruelty on Latinos and immigrants and our communities for political gain,” Castro said in a statement. Dreamers is a term adopted by younger immigrants without legal U.S. status.

Nathalie Rayes, Latino Victory Fund president and CEO, recalled statements Trump made against Mexicans when he began his presidential bid. They were seen as racist by some Latinos.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems," Trump said in his June 2015 speech at Trump Tower in New York. "They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting."

He also declared in that speech his plans to build a "Great Wall" and have Mexico pay for it. Construction so far of about 100 miles, some of it restoration of existing border barriers, has been paid for by the U.S.

“Trump is a racist demagogue who called Mexicans ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals’ and, to this day, continues to promote hateful rhetoric and policies that harm the Latino community,” Reyes stated.

In an interview, Reyes was unwilling to criticize López Obrador for accepting the invitation, telling NBC News, “I’m not Mexican or Mexican American and I feel a little hesitation to comment on someone else’s president.” But she did say, “I would not have visited Donald Trump if I were president of Mexico.”

About two-thirds of the U.S. Latino population is of Mexican origin and includes many Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans who under Mexico law can vote in Mexico’s elections too.

The visit is López Obrador’s first to the White House since he was elected in 2018. In a U.S. stop during his 2017 campaign, López Obrador filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, asking the commission to denounce Trump’s border wall plans and alleging Trump was engaging in “persecution” of migrants in the U.S.

But López Obrador has been more accommodating and congenial with the Trump administration of late, recently crediting Trump for cuts in production by other oil producing countries and helping Mexico get ventilators for its coronavirus patients.

He has been trying to renegotiate billions of dollars in oil contracts with foreign investors, including Americans, Reuters reported.

López Obrador cracked down on migrants traveling through Mexico to get to the U.S., to avoid tariffs that Trump threatened to place on Mexican goods. He saw little backlash from Mexican citizens for the crackdown.

López Obrador spoke of economic windfalls from the relationship he’s forging with Trump, The Associated Press reported.

“This helps us by being neighbors,” López Obrador said before he left Mexico, according to the AP. “This is about the economy, it’s about jobs, it’s about well-being."

"Offensive to me"

Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., was more critical of López Obrador than his CHC counterparts, writing in an opinion article published in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma that the Mexican president seems to have forgotten that Trump launched his presidential campaign with attacks on immigrants “and particularly against Mexicans.”

“The image of a Mexican president meeting with the most anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant president the United States has had, without questioning his aggressions, is offensive to me, and for Mexican Americans from Chicago to El Paso (Texas) and from Los Angeles to New York,” García, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, said in a statement.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, urged the two presidents to use their time to work on a binational strategy to tackle COVID-19. She noted the USMCA trade agreement underscores the interdependency of the two countries' economies and that without a binational response, lives, livelihoods and economies on both sides of the border are at risk.

While the U.S. is seeing spikes in cases in border states, Mexico's federal government "has not invested significantly in testing and contract tracing," she said.

"I have learned that the only testing taking place is for individuals admitted into hospitals," she stated.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., urged the two to discuss security challenges the countries face, including the skyrocketing violence and murder rates in Mexico as Mexican criminal organizations have grown stronger.

"These challenges cannot be addressed with wasteful, ineffective border walls or by coercing Mexico to use its National Guard to address irregular migration," Menendez stated in his letter to Trump. "These complex problems require serious leadership, not aspirational promises from President López Obrador or your administration's repeated efforts to cut the U.S. foreign assistance needed for bilateral cooperation with Mexico."

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