While it has been hard to ignore President Trump’s anti-Mexican vitriol since even before he took office, the ridiculous idea that this country would pay for the border wall has always been a bit of a sad joke here in Mexico.
Nevertheless, what initially seemed to Mexicans as bombastic campaign rhetoric has now become a potential reality with Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to secure funding for his project that, obviously, Mexico wouldn’t pay for.
Opinions vary depending on who you ask here, but overall, most people think it’s a dramatic exaggeration of a migration situation that has been declining since 2007, and see it as a diplomatic failure on the part of an inept White House.
As for president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — or ‘AMLO’, as people refer to him here — his administration has taken a hand’s-off approach to international politics, including politics at the border. When asked about the wall in January of this year, AMLO said his government would push for a “friendly relationship” with the US government and dismissed Trump’s border wall as a “public relations stunt for re-election in 2020”.
But many people here, especially those from border states, are offended by the declaration of a national emergency to build the wall. Senator Victor Fuentes from the state of Nuevo Leon told me, “Trump thrives on fomenting discrimination and the division between two nations that share a past, a present and without a doubt share a future… We share a historical community, one that cannot be fractured by one president and his caprices.”
Texas-Tamaulipas Trade Office Representative Francisco Galván echoed Senator Fuente’s opinion and told me he thinks the wall is bad for business. In a phone call, he explained to me: “The wall has been an issue for a while. We have always said here at the border that nobody in [Washington] D.C. really understands what the border is. Most people in the Rio Grande Valley are against it. For a long time, we’ve [the U.S. and Mexico] been business partners, brothers and families. They see the wall as a sign of division.”
Ana Gozaín, a marketing specialist from Mexico City, had this to say about Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build the wall: “I understand that the US has to control irregular immigration, but this is a populist move and it is really offensive for a major trading partner like Mexico.”
While the hysteria around the wall dominates the US press, Trump’s fabricated migration emergency isn’t even getting that much media attention here. That may be because there are already 2,000 miles of existing wall which was built in the nineties during the Clinton administration and, basically, people are already used to it. Many of my Mexicans friends and colleagues are also quick to remind me that the land Trump wants to build more wall on was annexed by the US during the Mexican-American War in the mid-1800’s — so it should really belong to Mexico anyway.
There is also simply much more going on than Trump’s “emergency wall” in Latin America’s second largest economy. For example, after 20 years of research, a Mexican scientist just discovered the cure for the Human Papilloma Virus — basically ending cervical cancer for women. The country is currently debating the creation of the National Guard, a new security force that is touted as solving a lot of the country’s issues with crime. And then there is the question about what to do with the Central American migrants that have ended up in tent cities, or worse, in Mexican border towns and have nowhere else to go.
Something else that concerns people here is the Trump administration turning away asylum seekers from central America, many of whom are having to stay in Mexico. The issue of those migrants travelling through Mexico has created substantial controversy in the country. And although Mexicans were rightfully offended by Trump’s insults about Mexican immigrants, a lot have taken the same racist attitude toward Central American migrants travelling through the country: a tragic approach to an already tragic situation.
For most people in Mexico one thing is clear: Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall is just another sad sideshow in this circus of an administration. But what happens when Mexico stops taking this barrage of xenophobic sentiment and policy lying down? At some point, the Mexican public may no longer accept the current government's non-interventionist approach and Mexican politicians will be forced to act beyond dismissing Trump’s claims outright.
A break in diplomatic relations between the US and Mexico would threaten trade, and thus the livelihoods of thousands of Mexicans and American citizens. This is, as Senator Fuentes said, a “historical community” — one with connections that go back much further, and run much deeper, than Trump and his aides could ever begin to understand. He destroys it at his peril.
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