AMLO Won’t Play Ball

Foreign Affairs

AMLO Won’t Play Ball

The Mexican president is making the border crisis worse.


“I know that your adversaries—the conservatives—are going to be screaming all over the place, even to Heaven.” 

Thus spoke Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, during his July 12 White House visit, as he urged his U.S. counterpart to regularize all illegal migrants in Gringolandia. Demanding the U.S. open up for more immigrants was the most important item on AMLO’s agenda in his White House tour. As Biden would find out, AMLO had not one word to say about the drastic need for real U.S.-Mexican border-security cooperation.

It is no surprise that AMLO, a student of Latin America’s leftist old school, would go out of his way to warn President Biden about conservatives. With remarkably little international experience and speaking no English, the 68-year-old AMLO no doubt formed his view of American conservatives in the 1960s, reading anti-U.S. leftwing intellectuals such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez.  He is totally unable to understand why American conservatives would defend the rule of law against presidential fiat.

AMLO’s advice that the American president pursue more lawless executive action on immigration was doubtless well received. But Biden did not comment on it. Instead, fully aware of the political heat he is taking for the ongoing border crisis, a desperate Biden sought public support from AMLO for dealing with the burning wreck that is U.S.-Mexican security cooperation. But AMLO gave him nothing. 

President Biden addressed directly the border crisis in his public remarks. Suddenly sounding like Wyatt Earp, the U.S. president condemned fentanyl trafficking, said Washington was deploying more security personnel to the border, and asked Mexico to join the fight against the “multibillion-dollar smuggling industry.” 

But when his turn came, the Mexican president had absolutely nothing to say about Biden’s points. He refused to address either illegal migration or narcotics trafficking. He made no mention at all of cooperating with Washington against the transnational criminal organizations that are destroying his country and strike even into the U.S. homeland. 

AMLO’s refusal to acknowledge Biden’s law-enforcement remarks or his call to work together is sadly typical. After more than three years under AMLO’s administration, Mexico is experiencing more criminal chaos than ever before, and the prospects for U.S.-Mexican collaboration on our common border are zero. 

When Biden announced his commitment to spend $3.4 billion on construction projects at U.S. ports of entry on the border, the Mexican president skipped right past the opening, declining to mention his country’s pledge, supposedly worked out between the diplomats, to invest $1.5 billion on Mexican border infrastructure between 2022 and 2024. Few observers expect Mexico City to deliver on such a commitment. It was at most a talking-point “deliverable” worked out by the presidential advance teams for the meeting, to be forgotten later, but AMLO would not even give Biden that.

Despite the White House spin, border infrastructure is not the same thing as border security. Serious border security, in the context of the U.S.-Mexican frontier, means aggressive law-enforcement cooperation against the cartels and their agents, who orchestrate smuggling, trafficking, and virtually all large-scale criminal activity on both sides of the frontier. When politicians are unable or unwilling to take on the cartels, they talk instead about things like infrastructure. Unless the politician is AMLO. 

Nobody expects the Mexican president to emphasize his country’s troubles while making a state visit abroad. Mexicans are rightly proud of their country and understandably guarded against displaying weakness in Washington. But a serious leader on an official visit to the White House would at least acknowledge challenges, address common concerns, and propose realistic policies. AMLO is so unconcerned, so hopeless, so out of touch, that he makes Biden look like a border hawk.

Dismissive of everything Biden really wanted to hear, AMLO gave a rambling statement in the White House, hinted about past bilateral grievances (obligatory for Mexican leaders) and FDR’s Good Neighbor policy. He remarked on Covid, inflation, energy production, the bracero program, the China threat, Ukraine, and of course the need for the U.S. to issue more visas. But not one word about the border-security challenges and rampant criminality that are tearing his proud Mexico apart and endangering the United States. 

Revealing how unaware he is even of his own country, AMLO broached the subject of soaring gasoline prices in the U.S., claiming he could help Biden by offering a cheaper pump price in Mexico. The Mexican president observed, “And right now a lot of the drivers—a lot of the Americans—are going to Mexico, to the Mexican border, to get their gasoline.” 

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AMLO and his advisors are so unconcerned with the criminal threats on the frontier that they somehow believe Americans are casually driving into dangerous Mexican border communities like El Paso-Juarez, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo, and Brownsville-Matamoros to fill up on gas. His comments reveal that he has no comprehension of real life on the border, nor of the ongoing hardship that his own countrymen must endure living in regions of the country totally controlled by cartels.

All indications are that things are only going to get worse with our large southern neighbor. U.S. General Glen VanHerck, commander of NorthCom, asserts that up to 35 percent of Mexican territory is either cartel-controlled or a region in which organized criminals act with impunity. How long can this continue? The number of Mexicans immigrating illegally into the U.S. had been falling significantly for years, but the figure has started to go up again since AMLO took office. Are we standing on the cusp of another massive wave of illegal Mexican migration as people flee these lawless communities?