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The Biden Administration: What To Expect From A Changing US-Mexico Relationship – Government, Public Sector


With President Donald Trump’s departure from office and the
inauguration of President Joe Biden comes the prospect of major
shifts in the relationship between the United States and Mexico.
President Biden has taken immediate steps to reverse policies of
the prior administration in areas that may have a substantial
impact on those doing business in Mexico and along the border
between the two countries. These changes come at a time when Mexico
itself is in a state of flux under the presidency of Andrés
Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2018.

How these shifts develop in the Biden Administration remains to
be seen. The US-Mexico relationship is strong, but also faces new
hurdles, including López Obrador’s continued populist
agenda, new migration challenges, a global pandemic with profound
impact in both countries and cross-border criminal justice
controversies. Awareness and understanding of these shifts, and of
the key players and policies at work, will be critical as
businesses position themselves in the initial months of the Biden
Administration.

Rule of Law

Presidents Trump and López Obrador shared a close
personal relationship that surprised many, given Trump’s
frequent negative comments about Mexico and its citizens. Their
amicable relationship may have been based, in part, on their
personal and political similarities. Like Trump, López
Obrador offered campaign promises of radical transformation in
Mexico and attacked perceived political corruption.

Since taking office, López Obrador has made controversial
moves to effectuate the “Fourth Transformation,” his
preferred name for his administration. In October 2020, the
Editorial Board of the Financial Times opined that López
Obrador “is revealing himself as an authoritarian
populist” through his attacks on Mexico’s independent
electoral authority, targeting of journalists and winning the
supreme court’s approval of his proposed referendum on whether
to allow the prosecutions of his political
predecessors.1

López Obrador also initially refused to recognize
President Biden’s electoral victory, delaying his
acknowledgment of the president-elect until mid-December
2020.2 The Mexican president later criticized companies
such as Facebook and Twitter for denying Trump a platform in the
wake of the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the
Capitol.3

López Obrador has also criticized attorneys whose
practice conflicts with his administration’s goals. On October
20, 2020, the American Bar Association published an open letter to
López Obrador expressing concerns about the rule of law
under his administration.4 It objected to federal
efforts to delegitimize attorneys practicing tax law and to
discourage individuals under tax investigation from consulting
attorneys, impinging upon the right to legal counsel.5
Just a few months later, on February 22, 2021, López Obrador
commented that it was a “disgrace” that Mexican lawyers
work for foreign companies he claimed want to take advantage of
Mexico. He stated that, although these lawyers are free to
practice, he hoped that they realize they are committing
“treason against their nation.” Several Mexican
professional lawyers’ associations expressed strong disapproval
of López Obrador’s comments and defended the role of
attorneys in guaranteeing access to justice.6

Immigration

On January 23, 2021, Biden and López Obrador conducted
their first presidential phone call, during which they covered
immigration, the COVID-19 pandemic and investment in Latin America.
López Obrador reported that Biden promised the United States
would spend $4 billion to further develop Honduras, El Salvador and
Guatemala in the hope that this investment would address the root
causes of unlawful migration to the United States.7
During the phone call, Biden rejected the previous
administration’s approach to immigration from Mexico and
Central America and declared his plans to revise those
policies.

Biden’s promises have been put to the test by migrant
caravans of thousands of Central Americans hoping to pass through
Mexico and into the United States.8 López Obrador
previously made several major concessions to Trump, including by
deploying the Mexican National Guard to patrol for undocumented
immigrants attempting to enter the United States and by requiring
asylum seekers to remain in Mexico during the pendency of their US
asylum cases.9

On March 1, 2021, the two leaders met by video to discuss
migration, COVID-19, trade and climate change. They also exchanged
invitations for in-person visits, without any specific
dates.10 At this meeting, Biden and López Obrador
expressed their shared “commit[ment] to immigration policies
that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of
orderly, safe, and regular migration.”11 Biden has
attempted to make good on that commitment throughout the month of
March, despite an average of over 550 unaccompanied minors crossing
into the United States per day. A recordsetting 17,000 minors will
likely enter by the end of the month.12 Biden has flatly
refused to expel such minors, instead working to increase capacity
in shelters and to place children with family members within the
United States.13

US-Mexico Trade

During the Trump Administration, the United States and Mexico
negotiated and signed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement
(USMCA). The USMCA went into effect in summer 2020, and among other
things, replaced the prior North American Free Trade
Agreement’s investor-state dispute settlement provisions and
increased some labor and intellectual property protections.

Footnotes

1 “López Obrador becomes Latin America’s
new strongman,” Financial Times, Oct. 4, 2020,
https://www.ft.com/content/ae1f61d8-d421-4b70-97a1-891a5e9d34b1
.

2 Joe Walsh, “Mexico and Brazil’s Presidents
Finally Acknowledge Biden’s Win,” Forbes, Dec. 15, 2020,

https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2020/12/15/mexico-and-brazils-presidents-finally-acknowledge-bidens-win-after-weeks-of-waiting/?sh=3893d3fd7e7f
;
“Mexico’s president again declines to recognize Biden
win,” Reuters, Nov. 25, 2020,
https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-election-mexico/mexicos-president-again-declines-to-recognize-biden-win-idUSKBN285294
.

3 “Mexico Leader Condemns Twitter, Facebook for
Blocking Trump,” U.S. News, Jan. 7, 2021,
https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2021-01-07/mexico-leader-condemns-twitter-facebook-for-blocking-trump
.

4 Patricia Lee Refo, ABA President, Letter to President
López Obrador regarding “Respect for the Rule of Law
and the right to legal representation,” Oct. 20, 2020,
https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/government_affairs_office/Rule-of-Law%20letter-Mexico-10-20-20.pdf?logActivity=true
;

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/mexico-denies-threatening-criminal-charges-to-boost-tax-take/ar-BB1alaQi
.

5 These federal efforts occurred in the context of
López Obrador’s professed goal of increasing tax
enforcement; Mexico has the lowest tax intake of the 37 countries
that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development. Daina Beth Solomon, “Mexican tax campaign
threatens rule of law, international attorneys say,” Reuters,
Sep. 19, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/mexico-taxes-idINKBN26A0B6.

6 José Luis Álvarez, “Asociaciones de
abogados responden a AMLO: el Estado de derecho no es
traición a la patria,” el Contribuyente, Feb. 24, 2021,

https://www.elcontribuyente.mx/2021/02/asociaciones-de-abogados-responden-a-amlo-el-estado-de-derecho-no-es-traicion-a-la-patria/
.

7 Mark Stevenson, Rob Gillies and Aamer Madhani,
“Mexican leader says Biden offers $4B for Central
America,” Associated Press, Jan. 23, 2021,
https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-north-america-mexico-justin-trudeau-coronavirus-pandemic-070159520dd892ad0f4233cfec7e2827
.

8 “Migrant caravan: Mexico presses US to reform
immigration policies,” BBC News, Jan. 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55714865.

9 “Mexican president defends restrictive immigration
policies,” AP News, Dec. 17, 2020,
https://apnews.com/article/international-news-mexico-coronavirus-pandemic-immigration-central-america-bfc07e78d2c5ca2b1fe2a72e0d37cf34
.

10 Tal Axelrod, “Biden to hold virtual bilateral
meeting with Mexican president,” The Hill, Feb. 26, 2021,
https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/540803-biden-to-hold-virtual-bilateral-meeting-with-mexican-president
;
U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration, The White House Briefing Room, Mar.
1, 2021,
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/01/u-s-mexico-joint-declaration/
.

11 US-Mexico Joint Declaration, The White House Briefing
Room, Mar. 1, 2021,
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/01/u-s-mexico-joint-declaration/
.

12 Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, “Migrant teens
and children have challenged three administrations, but Biden faces
rush with no precedent,” Washington Post, Mar. 22, 2021,
https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/22/unaccompanied-minors-immigration-obama-trump-biden/
.

13 Claire Hansen, “Biden Defends Administration on
Immigration, Promises to Improve System,” U.S. News, Mar. 25,
2021,
https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2021-03-25/biden-defends-administration-on-immigration-promises-to-improve-system
.


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