By Julian Pecquet - 05/03/13 03:10 PM EDT
Mexico has “the greatest of partners” in the United States, President Obama told a cheering crowd of Mexican students Friday morning.
In a 25-minute speech peppered with Spanish phrases and jokes about daughter Malia's progress in learning the language, the president told Mexicans their neighbor to the north is “rooting” for their success.
“This is your moment,” Obama said. “As you dream for that future, always remember that you have the greatest of partners, the greatest of friends, the nation that is rooting for your success more than anybody else, you neighbor, the United States of America.”
Obama's visit to Mexico — his fourth as president — comes as the country’s economy is booming and its new leader, President Enrique Peña Nieto, has promised deep economic reforms that both leaders hope will eclipse concerns about border security and illegal immigration.
Obama said the current immigration system "doesn't reflect our values" and must be changed.
"I'm convinced we can get it done. Reform that continues to strengthen border security and strengthen legal immigration, so citizens don't have to wait years to bring their families to the United States. Reform that holds everyone accountable so immigrants get on the right side of the law ... and are not exploited and abused. And most of all, reform that gives millions of undocumented individuals a pathway to earn their citizenship.”
"I am optimistic that after years of trying, we are going to get it done this year. I'm absolutely convinced of it," Obama said.
The president used the address at Mexico City's National Anthropology Museum to call for a new relationship between the U.S. and Mexico focused on “the prosperity that we can create together.”
He urged Mexico's young people to look beyond stereotypes of the United States as imperialistic and inward-looking; likewise, he said, Americans need to think beyond the images of drug violence and illegal immigration when thinking about their neighbor to the south.
“Despite all the bonds and the values that we share — despite all the people who claim heritage on both sides — our attitudes sometimes are trapped in old stereotypes,” Obama said.
“In both countries such distortions create misunderstandings that make it harder for us to move forward together. So I've come to Mexico because I think it's time for us to put old mindsets aside. It's time to recognize new realities, including the impressive progress of today's Mexico.”
Much of the speech mirrored remarks Obama made after meeting with Peña Nieto on Thursday. He reiterated his commitment to immigration reform, and said the United States needs to do its part to stem violence south of the border by tamping down on the demand for illegal drugs and gun trafficking.
“Juntos podemos lograr más,” Obama said. “Together, we can achieve more.”
This story was updated at 11:53 a.m. and 12:09 p.m.