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An Open Letter to Mexican President-Elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

An open letter to President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sharing reflections in advance of his meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (English translation)

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López Obrador celebrates with his supporters in Mexico City after his win on July 1. Photo: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images, Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

Dear President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,

We write from Chicago to congratulate you and to share some insights to inform your upcoming meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. If the Trump Administration desires a new relationship with Mexico, the human rights of Mexican migrants need to be part of that discussion. We know you face a huge challenge dealing with representatives of a President who came to power after a campaign based on racist characterizations of Mexicans – but Mexicans and their allies in the U.S. support you. Please keep in mind when you sit down with Secretary Pompeo that everything the Trump administration has done with respect to migration policy and enforcement has been under Executive discretion and can be reversed.

What can be done for Mexicans in the U.S.? The administration’s “no discretion/ deport everyone” policy could be modified immediately. It has resulted in the devastation of hundreds of migrant families with mixed status - Mexican parents who are undocumented, parents who are lawful residents with minor criminal offenses, children who are U.S. citizens or DACA recipients, and undocumented grandparents brought to the U.S. to live with their children. ICE has been sweeping through rural and urban communities where Mexicans have lived in peace and contributed to local economies. There is no reason why President Trump cannot restore humanitarian values to enforcement.

Second, what might change at the border? In the cruelest of policies, President Trump ordered Central American and Mexican migrant children ripped away from their parents after crossing the border – as a cruel and mistaken deterrent against families fleeing violence. After 3,000 children were taken, tremendous public outrage forced the President to rescind the policy. The Border Patrol had acted so quickly and carelessly that the administration now admits they have insufficient information to reunite these children with their parents - as a U.S. court now has ordered. You can commend the reversal of this cruel policy.

Also at the border, the administration is emphasizing the criminal prosecution of individual migrants, at the expense of anti-drug and anti-trafficking efforts. President Trump has given his blessing to a “Zero Tolerance” policy, to bring criminal charges against all unauthorized border-crossers. Hundreds of Mexicans and Central Americans have been convicted and sentenced in mass hearings which are reminiscent of the “pass law” trials in apartheid South Africa. This senseless policy could end with the stroke of a pen.

What about Mexican workers? Thousands of undocumented Mexicans work in agricultural, service, and manufacturing jobs in the U.S. in a precarious situation, their labor essential to the economies of both countries. Instead of a regularization the status of current long-term residents, the Trump administration would like to deport them and expand current guest-worker programs, which currently bring around 100,000 Mexicans to the U.S. While guest workers can cross the border safely, they remain vulnerable to super-exploitation by recruiters in Mexico and employers in the U.S. Employers commonly confiscate their passports and keep them in conditions characterized as “close to slavery.” During World War 2, Mexico was able to leverage a bilateral treaty to govern the welfare of “braceros.” Today U.S. employers realize that Mexican workers are as essential as they were in the 1940s. Don’t agree to any expanded guest-worker programs without a commitment to real bilateralism and the protection of labor rights of guest-workers.

The U.S. government is abandoning its obligations towards asylum seekers under the Refugee Convention and U.S. law. and wants Mexico to be complicit. The administration wants Mexico to sign a “Safe Third Country” agreement, to force Central Americans to apply for asylum in Mexico. U.S. border personnel are already forcing Central Americans who ask for asylum at ports of entry to wait under difficult conditions in Mexico. We believe a “Safe Third Country” agreement would not be in Mexico’s interest. Mexico can be a leader in devising rational and humane regional refugee policy without conceding to U.S. interests now.

We hope that you take these suggestions in a spirit of solidarity. We believe that Mexico can advocate for migration policies to preserve family unity and protect the rights of workers and asylum seekers across our region. We stand ready to help in any way we can.


Hon. Jesus Garcia, Commissioner, Cook County (Illinois) Board, Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives

Susan Gzesh, J.D., Senior Lecturer & Executive Director, Pozen Center for Human Rights, University of Chicago