Uncertainty Over Mexican Election Raises Concerns for Biden Administration

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The Biden administration is on edge as Mexican citizens prepare to vote this weekend for the successor to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

There is limited information about the policies Claudia Sheinbaum, the leading candidate according to polls, might adopt. This uncertainty could pose challenges for the White House ahead of the U.S. election, especially if Mexico disrupts border agreements that have helped decrease illegal immigration.

If Sheinbaum is elected, she would have the authority to annul an April agreement between Lopez Obrador and President Joe Biden. This agreement, highlighted by the White House for reducing illegal immigrant arrests at the U.S. southern border, might be revoked without needing congressional approval, according to the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

“The next Mexican President has the authority to undo the late April Agreements since the Mexican government reported they were cooperation commitments,” wrote Lila Abed, acting director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, in a statement Thursday. “Constitutionally, the President has the authority to coordinate Mexico’s foreign policy.

Uncertainty Over Mexican Election Raises Concerns for Biden Administration
FILE – This combination of two file photos shows Xochitl Galvez, left, arriving to register her name as a presidential candidate on July 4, 2023, in Mexico City, and Claudia Sheinbaum, right, at an event that presented her as her party’s presidential nominee on Sept. 6, 2023, in Mexico City. The two women, considered the frontrunners in Mexico’s presidential election, discussed social spending and climate change in the race’s second debate Sunday, April 28, 2024, which also included Jorge Álvarez Máynez. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

Josh Trevino of the Texas Public Policy Foundation criticized the Biden administration for the uncertainty surrounding Sheinbaum’s potential policies.

“You cannot blame Sheinbaum for it. You can’t blame the Mexicans for it. It’s our fault that we don’t really know. And that’s going to bear some fruit,” said Trevino, TPPF’s chief of intelligence and research.

Millions of Mexican voters will head to the polls Sunday to choose their next president.

Term-limited Lopez Obrador will be replaced in October by the winner, while U.S. voters will head to the polls in November to choose between Republican nominee Donald Trump and incumbent Democrat Joe Biden.

Immigration is the top issue among U.S. voters, surpassing the economy and foreign policy. The Biden administration has taken steps to reduce the flow of migrants and improve border conditions.

In late April, Lopez Obrador and Biden discussed by phone measures to reduce irregular border crossings while protecting human rights, as stated in an April 29 joint statement.

The White House expressed optimism about continued cooperation with Mexico during its leadership transition.

“We have every hope and expectation that it will [continue],” said John Kirby, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, during a press conference Tuesday. “We certainly have no expectation that Mexican cooperation and support is going to diminish.”

The leading candidates are Sheinbaum, former mayor of Mexico City and member of the Morena party, and Xóchitl Gálvez of the conservative National Action Party. Either candidate would be the first woman president of Mexico.

Sheinbaum has campaigned on reducing crime nationwide with a strategy that lowered murder rates in Mexico City. However, she faces powerful cartels that control cities and states, profiting billions from human smuggling and drug trafficking.

Sheplans to double federal investigators, increase National Guard troops, and reform judicial policies, aligning with Lopez Obrador’s actions. However, Sheinbaum hasn’t indicated her stance on the April agreement.

“There’s not a lot of evidence there, nor does her public policy career prior to seeking the presidency really give us much insight into what she might do,” said Treviño. “Claudia Sheinbaum has been very, very careful to allow no daylight between her and AMLO on policy. … We don’t know what we’re going to get. What she has promised the Mexican domestic audience is continuity.”

Theresa Cardinal Brown from the Bipartisan Policy Center noted Sheinbaum’s policy-oriented approach and parallels to Biden, contrasting with non-politicians Lopez Obrador and Trump.

“She represents the same political coalition [as Lopez Obrador],” said Brown, senior adviser on immigration and border policy for BPC. “Biden is more policy-minded. They may hit it off fine.”

Dr. Néstor P. Rodríguez of the University of Texas at Austin highlighted that ongoing partnership on migration may have limited impact due to various influencing factors.

“Mexico has been pretty active in moving migrants to southern areas away from the US border, so there is some truth to Kirby’s claim, but there are other important variables too in the equation. Migration always fluctuates,” said Rodríguez.

Changes in U.S.-Mexico border policy might not occur until after the U.S. election, contingent on who occupies the White House.

“In terms of how they will deal with immigration and the U.S. they do not have many degrees of freedom,” Rodriguez wrote in an email. “They will very likely will follow US line (especially if Trump is elected). The US controls the economic strong cards.”

Besides border security and immigration, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, established in 2020, is due for renegotiation in 2026.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Anna Giaritelli
Anna Giaritelli
Anna Giaritelli focuses on homeland security, immigration, and border issues. Anna has traveled to the border on more than 40 occasions since 2018 and has covered human smuggling, the evolution of the war on drugs, domestic terrorism, and migration trends. She is currently based in Austin, Texas.

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