Remarks Prior to a Meeting With President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico
President Biden. Mr. President—my friend, my partner—it's good to have you back to the White House.
Over the last year and a half, we've devoted our teams to whole-of-government efforts focused on rebuilding the solid framework of the U.S.-Mexico relations. As I told you from the beginning—and I mean it—I see, we see Mexico as an equal partner. Our nations share close ties in family and friendship, and we're united through our values and our history.
And for me and my administration, the U.S.-Mexico relationship is vital to achieve our goals of everything from the fight against COVID-19, to continuing to grow our economies, to strengthening our partnerships and addressing migration as a shared hemispheric challenge. And addressing migration is a hemispheric challenge, a commitment captured in the Los Angeles Declaration adopted by the Summit of the Americas.
And, Mr. President, this is a relationship that directly impacts the daily lives—the daily lives—of our people. And despite the overhyped headlines that we sometimes see, you and I have a strong and productive relationship and, I would argue, a partnership.
Today we're going to be discussing our shared challenges we face and commitments on some of the major issues that we're taking on together. One of those is migration. A—at historic levels throughout our hemisphere, like us, Mexico has become a top destination of migrants. And here's what we're going to do to address it together:
My administration is leading the way to creating work opportunities through legal pathways. We—and last year, my administration set a record, issuing more than 300,000 H-2 visas for Mexican workers. We also reached a 5-year high in the visas we issued to the—to Central Americans, and we're on pace to double this in fiscal year for—this fiscal year for Central America.
And I want to thank you, Mr. President, for also stepping up and increasing worker visas in Mexico for Central Americans. This is a proven strategy that fuels economic growth as well as reduces irregular migration. And it doesn't get much attention, but we're also making historic investments in infrastructure modernization across our 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
My bipartisan infrastructure law here in America is delivering $3.4 billion to major construction projects at the ports of entry between our two countries to make our border safer and more efficient for people, trade, and commerce. And the American people should know, Mr. President, that you're also making a significant investment on your side of the border to improve infrastructure to meet the needs of our times and the future.
And a very important point—another critical position—critical example is, we are accelerating our efforts to disrupt the trafficking of fentanyl and other drugs that are literally killing people. Fentanyl kills people. We've had a major antismuggling operation underway since April, targeting human smugglers who traffic in people, drugs, and weapons.
Towards this effort, we've deployed 1,300 additional personnel, conducted 20,000 disruption operations, and we've made over 3,000 arrests, all since April. And we have been conducting myriad disruption operations along our shared border with our Mexican partners.
But, as you know, Mr. President, we need every country in the region to join us in tracking this multibillion-dollar smuggling industry that's preying on our most vulnerable, including the 53 souls who died in a tractor trailer in San Antonio last month.
President Obrador and I will also be talking about enhanced enforcement measures, including reparation [repatriation]* efforts. And today we'll agree on our next steps together on all these fronts, because we know we have to meet these challenges together.
Mr. President, again, welcome. And I look forward to our discussions after this introductory meeting.
President López Obrador. We're so happy, President Biden, to be here at the White House once more. And I send my greetings to the good, hard-working, the fine, and very progressive people of the United States. My greetings.
This is the second meeting in just 8 months, the second meeting we are holding with you, Mr. President, here at the White House.
Yes, but as you have already expressed, President Biden, these existing circumstances are demanding so many more things from us, for instance, having a closer relationship, closer ties of friendship and cooperation so that we can act together vis-à-vis the major challenges our two countries face. And these are truly difficult times. No question about it.
First of all, we have the pandemic—the COVID-19 pandemic with the sequence of death, suffering, hardships, and damage—damage on the productive activities of our countries.
And now we have the war in the Ukraine. And as we know, it has not only constituted grief and destruction, but it made the economic crisis even worse, yes. And this has resulted in inflationary spiral that the entire world is suffering.
Therefore, President Biden, I have come to see you to express, on behalf of the Mexican people, our disposal, our willingness to work together for the well-being of our nations. This will not be the first nor the last occasion on which we close ranks to help each other, we know.
In spite of our differences and also in spite of our grievances that are not really easy to forget with time or with good wishes—they're not easy to forget—however, on many occasions, we've been able to coincide, and we've been able to work together as good friends and true allies.
During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration——
[At this point, President Biden pointed up above the fireplace where a portrait of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was displayed. President López Obrador looked up and nodded as the interpreter continued translating his remarks.]
——we were able to see a policy that we believe it was a very efficient and very fraternal policy.
Those were other times. However, we had circumstances that were quite similar to our existing circumstances. And from those policies, we should be extracting good lessons, because history is the master of life.
When President Roosevelt took office March 4, 1933, the United States was going through one of the most profound social and economic crises of its history. That's why with great definition, determination, and aplomb, since the first 100 days of its administration, he launched a whirlpool of initiatives that changed the country and gave new hopes to its inhabitants.
And throughout his administration, he also applied, he enforced a policy, a Good Neighbors policy. And this is something that was enforced and applied throughout the American continent. Authenticity of this policy had, as its best example, respect for the sovereignty of Mexico.
At that time, President Lázaro Cárdenas's administration was also launching very deep, very important reforms. So then, in 1938, that's when the oil expropriation took place in Mexico. However, differences were addressed and solved through a dialogue and collaboration with dignity.
This policy of respect for the sovereignty of our country, of the nations in general, gave us very good fruit, yes. For instance, it created conditions which were very favorable conditions for the governments of the United States and Mexico to act as partners, as allies throughout the Second World War. And this alliance went beyond—over and beyond—mere cooperation in this bellicist effort.
When the United States went into the Second World War, thousands of Americans were recruited by the Armed Forces, and this meant that the agricultural field was left with no labor force. Farmers urgently needed labor force, as it also happens now in restaurants, factories, construction works, and out in the countryside as well.
At that time, under those circumstances in 1943, President Roosevelt recognized reality, and he decided to support the Bracero Program, through which thousands of Mexican agricultural laborers came into the United States legally to help in the production of foodstuffs, even during the construction of the railroad system in the United States: 1943 through 1946, 130,000 Mexican workers, farm workers were hired through this agreement signed by both governments.
Certainly, the program was not exempt from mistakes, abuses, and noncompliance. However, there is no doubt that it had very good results at the productive and labor levels. It was a more secure framework with less human rights violations, especially with—compare that to current migration provisions.
Today we're proposing something similar to this program. It is true that the USMCA is a treaty that's already uniting and integrating our three countries: our three countries—Mexico, the United States, and Canada. However, there are still margins for us to intensify our bilateral relationship. For instance, high inflationary rates have to do with misadjustments of the world economy because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
However, we should also recognize that for some time now, we haven't been producing what we should be producing. In the last three decades, it was very comfortably accepted for China to become the factory of the world. And this was due to the fallacious idea that, with globality, it wasn't necessary to continue our self-sufficiency in the production of foodstuffs, because we were able to produce energy and other goods. We didn't have to do it; it wasn't necessary because we could always import them as we needed them. So self-sufficiency was not necessary.
However, the reality we live in now makes it necessary and indispensable for us to produce everything we consume in our countries and regions. Without reaching an extremist position of closing our economies, we should remember that the development of our nations depends fundamentally on their productive capacity.
President Biden, I'm about to finish. [Laughter]
President Biden. That's okay. Let me say one thing. I can't get over how that lovely lady is holding that camera steady all this time and not move her arm. [Laughter] It's amazing. Sorry for the distraction.
President López Obrador. Yes, I fully coincide with what you have proposed, President Biden. And I could summarize everything we've been saying in five basic items of cooperation.
Number one, since the energy crisis started, Mexico has used 72 percent of its crude and fuel oil exports to United States refineries, 800,000 barrels a day. Therefore, we decided that while we're waiting for prices of gasoline to go down in the United States—and I hope that Congress approves or passes your proposal, Mr. President——
President Biden. It has gone down for 30 days in a row. [Laughter]
President López Obrador. ——of lowering—lowering prices, yes. That's it.
In the meantime, while we're waiting for prices to go down, we have decided that it was necessary for us to allow Americans who live close to the borderline so that they could go and get their gasoline in—on the Mexican side at lower prices. And right now a lot of the drivers—a lot of the Americans—are going to Mexico, to the Mexican border, to get their gasoline.
However, we could increase our inventories immediately. We are committed to guaranteeing twice as much supply of fuel. That would be considerable support. And right now a gallon of regular costs $4.78 average on this side of the border. And in our territory, $3.12.
Let me clarify something, and I also want to take advantage of this opportunity to thank you, Mr. President. Most of this gasoline, we are producing it in the Pemex refinery that you allowed us to buy in Deer Park, Texas.
Two, we are putting at the disposal—or sending at the disposal of your administration over 1,000 kilometers of gas pipelines throughout the southern border with Mexico to transport gas from Texas to New Mexico, Arizona, and California for a volume that can generate up to 750 megawatts of electric energy and supply about 3 million people.
Three, even though the USMCA has made progress for the elimination of tariffs, there are still some others that could be immediately suspended. And we could do the same with some regulations, regulatory measures, and tedious procedures or redtape in terms of trade related to foodstuffs and other products so that we can lower prices for consumers in both our countries, always being very careful in the protection of health and the environment.
Four, starting a private-public investment plan between our two countries to produce all those goods that will be strengthening our markets so that we can avoid having importations from other regions or continents.
In our country, we shall continue producing oil throughout the energy transition. With the U.S. investors, we are going to be establishing gas-liquefying plants, fertilizer plants, and we shall continue promoting the creation of solar energy parks in the state of Sonora and other border states as well.
And we're going to accomplish this with the support of thermal electric plants and also through transmission lines to produce energy in the domestic market, as well as for exports, to neighboring States in the American Union, as for instance, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
It's also important to mention that, 2 months ago, we took the sovereign decision of nationalizing lithium in Mexico. This is a fundamental mineral, a fundamental input to advance in our purpose not to depend on fossil fuels. And this will be available for the technological modernization of the automotive industry among our great countries, the countries of the USMCA.
Five, an orderly migration flow and allowing arrival in the United States of workers, technicians, and professionals of different disciplines. I'm talking about Mexicans and Central Americans with temporary work visas to ensure not paralyzing the economy because of the lack of labor force.
The purpose of this plan would be to support and to have the right labor force that would be demanded by the plan you proposed, and that was passed by Congress of using $1 trillion for the construction of infrastructure works.
And it's also indispensable that I say this in a very sincere fashion in the most respectful manner: It is indispensable for us to regularize and give certainty to migrants that have for years lived and worked in a very honest manner, and who are also contributing to the development of this great nation.
I know that your adversaries—the conservatives—are going to be screaming all over the place, even to Heaven. They're going to be yelling at Heaven. But without a daring, a bold program of development and well-being, it will not be possible to solve problems. It will not be possible to get the people's support. In the face of this crisis, the way out is not through conservatism. The way out is through transformation. We have to be bold in our actions. Transform not maintain the status quo.
On our part, we're acting in good faith, with all transparency, because there shouldn't be selfishness between countries, peoples that are neighbors and friends. On the other hand, integration does not signify hegemony or subjugation.
And, President Biden, we trust you because you respect our sovereignty. We are willing to continue working with you for the benefit of our peoples. Count with our support—count on our support and solidarity always.
Long live the United States. Viva México lindo y querido. Long live Mexico—dear Mexico, loved and beautiful Mexico. Viva México.
President Biden. Well, Mr. President, you've had a lot of important things to say, and we have much agreement. And some of the details, we'll have a chance to talk about where the disagreement is. But the thrust of what you're saying we agree with: We need to work closely together.
I might note, of all the major economies in the world, we are the fastest growing. We, the United States, already the fastest growing in the world. Just since I became President, we have created more jobs than any President ever has in the beginning of his administration, almost 8.5 million new jobs.
Wages have risen 5½ percent. We are suffering from inflation imposed as a consequence of what's going on in Ukraine, but we have the lowest rate of almost every major nation in the world.
Even last month, we created another three-hundred-and—I think—fifty-seven-thousand new jobs. And it doesn't mean, we don't have problems; we do. And we do believe—I do believe that, working with you, we can help solve both our problems.
And China is not only not going to be the factory of the world. You're in the factory of the world, the United States. We produce more agricultural product than anything close to what they do. I'm not suggesting there are not problems. There are real problems, but they are solvable, as you pointed out.
And I'm anxious for us to get into some detail about the explicit five points you raised and how we can make sure we work together on all five of those points. And I hope I've demonstrated my whole career I have the enormous respect for Mexico as an independent nation, a great nation, and I have great respect for you.
We have liberals, moderates, conservatives, and extreme conservatives. I'm waiting for the Republican Party to come back to traditional conservative positions. We have to start to talk with them, to one another, in this country, with respect.
I have enormous respect for you, and I'm ready to get to work. And I'm going to find out how she holds that camera. It's amazing.
President López Obrador. This is a journalist from Mexico, yes. She's exceptional.
President Biden. She is exceptional. Just holding that camera. [Laughter] At any rate——
Q. Thank you, Mr. President.
President López Obrador. This is a tribute, homage to all of the media here. Yes. Women and men journalists, reporters. Thank you so much.
Q. President Biden——
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:26 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. President López Obrador spoke in Spanish, and his remarks were translated by an interpreter.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks Prior to a Meeting With President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356760