WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden spoke Monday afternoon with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — a chance for the pair to talk more fully about migration, confronting the coronavirus pandemic and cooperating on economic and national security issues.
Looming large was how the two leaders would get along in what has become an increasingly complicated relationship.
“We haven’t been perfect neighbors to each other,” Biden acknowledged in brief remarks at the start of his video conference meeting with the Mexican president.
López Obrador, for his part, told Biden that he was thankful that the new president was “willing to maintain good relations for the good of our people in North America.”
The Mexican president also gave a wink to a rueful observation attributed to José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori, the Mexican general who served seven terms as the country’s president, about the two countries’ relationship: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the U.S.”
“I can now say ‘It’s wonderful for Mexico to be close to God and not so far from the United States,’” López Obrador said.
López Obrador came to the meeting with his own checklist of priorities, including pressing Biden to give pharmaceutical company Pfizer permission to sell his country vaccine produced in the United States, something that Canada has also requested from the White House.
“We want to have an answer about a request we made,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at his daily news conference, hours before speaking with Biden.
Ahead of the meeting, White House officials reiterated that Biden remained focused on first vaccinating U.S. citizens before turning his attention to assisting other nations. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters at the start of the meeting, said the two leaders would be discussing vaccines.
The effort to reset the U.S.-Mexico relationship under Biden comes as a flood of migrants have rushed to the border since his victory in November.
Biden has backed a bill to give legal status and a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living in the country illegally. Biden also broke with Trump by supporting efforts to allow hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. illegally as young children to remain in the country.
The Biden administration immediately began to unwind Remain in Mexico, suspending it for new arrivals on the president’s first day in office and soon after announcing that an estimated 26,000 people with still-active cases could be released in the United States while their cases played out.
Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day, but nearly all 7,100 beds for immigrant children maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services are full.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday sought to push back against the notion that the situation at the border was spinning out of control.
“The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock seven days a week to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border, that we manage the challenge as acute as the challenge is, and they are not doing that alone,” Mayorkas said.
Ahead of the meeting, López Obrador also floated a proposal for a Bracero-style immigrant work visa program for 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican and Central American workers annually.
Asked about the Mexican president’s proposal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that reinstituting the Bracero program would require action by Congress.
The original Bracero program allowed Mexicans to work temporarily in the United States to fill labor shortages during World War II and for a couple of decades after the war. López Obrador said the U.S. economy needs Mexican workers because of “their strength, their youth.”
On Monday, López Obrador added that his new proposal would be a program not only for agriculture workers but for other sectors and professionals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report: Mark Stevenson, Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani, Josh Boak and Elliot Spagat reporting.