Mexico elected a new president Sunday and his win should impact the U.S. debate over immigration.
In his acceptance speech Andrés Manuel López Obrador, vowed to root out corruption in Mexico, even if found among his friends and family. And he told Mexico’s poor that he would fight for them first. He also had a special message for immigrants.
He said those who want to “emigrate should do so for pleasure, not out of necessity.”
He said he would first work to tackle poverty in Mexico. An estimated 44 percent of Mexicans live below the poverty line and 7.6 percent in extreme poverty, according to Coneval, a Mexican social development agency.
“We will respect everyone. But we will give preference to the most humble and forgotten,” he said after being confirmed the winner by the current president Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party that lost power for the first time in 2000 and regained it in 2012.
Mexican presidents serve six years and cannot be re-elected.
The new president, known by his initials of AMLO, created the Morena party and has been labeled a leftist populist. Rooting out corruption and fighting for the poor is central to his platform. He has been a critic of NAFTA in the past but in the campaign has said that he wants Mexico to remain in the trade agreement. He will certainly advocate for his economy when re-negotiations begin later this year.
After his victory, AMLO promised to double pensions for the elderly and to guarantee all young people a right to an education and to a job.
These are monumental promises and it remains to be seen whether he can achieve them. But if the new president can create more economic opportunity in his country it could help stem migration to the U.S.
AMLO has said he would dismantle the "mafia of power" and reference to government and business leaders who enrich themselves at the expense of the country.
President TrumpDonald TrumpYoungkin ad features mother who pushed to have 'Beloved' banned from son's curriculum White House rejects latest Trump claim of executive privilege Democrats say GOP lawmakers implicated in Jan. 6 should be expelled MORE has stirred fear about the numbers of Mexicans in the U.S.
However, the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. is on the decline. The number of Mexicans living in the U.S., without documentation has decreased by more than 1 million since 2007, according to Pew Research.
In fiscal 2016, more than 190,000 Mexicans were apprehended at the border, a sharp drop from a peak of 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000, also according to Pew.
Apprehensions at the border have increased over the past year but they still remain at historic lows.
This hasn’t stopped Trump from tweeting earlier this year, “Our Southern border is under siege.” And he began his campaign for president by demonizing Mexican immigrants calling them criminals and rapists.
His rhetoric has angered Mexicans in the United States and Mexico. And former Mexican President Vicente Fox has tweeted several times that Mexico will not pay for the (expletive) wall.
Don’t expect AMLO to pay for the wall either. He published a book called "Oye, Trump" ("Listen Up, Trump") and he has condemned Trump’s plans to build a border wall.
Mexico “will never be the piñata of any foreign government,” AMLO has said.
It was falsely reported by right-wing media that AMLO called for a massive migration to the U.S. What he said was that he would defend the human rights of Mexicans in the U.S.
Mexico faces many challenges and threats. More than 135 politicians and political operatives were killed in the country this past year. And the number of homicides in Mexico was at an all-time high in 2017 and could be worse in 2018.
AMLO will face challenges curtailing the violence driven by the drug cartels, which thrive as long as there is a demand for illicit drugs in the U.S.
Mexicans were so eager to vote, so hungry for a change, that there were reports that some polling stations ran out of ballots. This did not hurt AMLO’s margin of victory as he won with an estimated 53 percent of the vote in a contest with three other major candidates.
Trump congratulated AMLO in a tweet, saying he looked forward to working with him. "There is much to be done that will benefit both the United States and Mexico," Trump said.
In his speech Sunday night AMLO said that he would work to have a relationship of friendship and cooperation with the U.S.
AMLO may have one thing in common with Trump’s rhetoric in that he wants to put Mexico and Mexicans first.
If this means raising wages and creating jobs in Mexico, then this would benefit both countries.
Teresa Puente teaches journalism at California State University, Long Beach and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project.