It’s not often that Mexico and the United States hold presidential elections in the same year.
It happens only every 12 years. And that coincidence is an opportunity to start anew or fix the things that have not worked. In this year of 2024, the combinations of possible winners point to very different futures.
The options are of course these: Trump-Claudia, Trump-Xóchitl, Biden-Claudia and Biden-Xóchitl. It’s interesting that the Mexican candidates, both women, are known by their first names and are close to the voters while the US candidates are identified by their last names and are more distant from their people.
In 2024, Mexican and U.S. voters will be chosing one of several different possible futures.
For Mexico, for example, it’s not the same if Trump or Biden win. If Trump returns to the White House we can expect, as The New York Times reported, the largest mass deportations in modern history, enormous detention camps for undocumented migrants and a significant reduction in the number of foreigners entering the United States.
Mexico never paid for a wall along the border, like Donald Trump said it would during his presidency, and he did not manage to build many more miles of border barriers like he promised. But his anti-migrant rhetoric and Covid restrictions limited considerably the entry of undocumente migrants. We can expect more of the same.
If Joe Biden wins, it will not be so easy for Mexico either. In one recent day alone, more than 12,600 migrants crossed the southern border illegally. Multiply that times 365 and you’ll see the scale of the crisis. And that’s why Biden will ask for – demand? – much more help from Mexico to limit the entry of undocumented migrants.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador folded his arms and allowed first Trump and then Biden to turn Mexico into a US immigration police force and a waiting room for migrants applying for US political asylum, under the so-called Stay in Mexico program. The challenge for Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez will be to break up that arrangement. There’s no reason for Mexico to do the work of the US Border Patrol against Central and South Americans who are fleeing violence and poverty.
What’s more, the next presidents of Mexico and the United States will have to come up with a different way to confront the issue of violence. We cannot accept nearly 30,000 murders a year in Mexico as something normal. And the United States can be of great help controlling the flow of US guns to Mexico. But the two strategies that Mexico has tried since 2006 – war or embraces for drug traffickers – have been abject failures.
Xóchitl and Claudia must quell the exremist screams of US Republicans who demand US interventions and military operations against Mexican cartels and drugs. And the best way to do that is to reopen highways and free populations, reinforce the presence and powers of local and state police and significantly reduce the number of murders and dissappearances. That will be the great challenge of their six-year presidential term.
And now the obvious. The proximity of Mexico and the United States make it increasingly possible for Mexican companies to produce products now arriving from China. No, Mexico will not be the new China. But “near-shoring” is much more than a slogan. There’s no reason why Mexican companies in specific industries cannot provide the United States with products and parts at better prices and more rapidly than the Chinese.
It makes no difference which candidates wins in each country. There are geographical advantages that must be leveraged in better ways. The natural extension of this commercial cooperation would be an immigration accord for Mexican workers in the United States, like the agreements within the European Union. But the current crisis on the southern border is blocking even any talk of negotiations.
We must take advantage of the coincidences in 2024.
I remember clearly a 2001 summit in Guanajuato between George W. Bush and Vicente Fox. The optimism among the two newly sowrn-in presidents was overflowing. The talked about the “whole enchilada,” a term coined by Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda to describe an ambitious immigration accord between the two countries. But the 9/11 terror attacks put a stop to everything and launched the current era of anti-immigration sentiments in the United States.
Trump, Biden, Claudia and Xóchitl can recover the binational enthusiasm from those days more than 20 years ago. Progress can be achieved jointly on the issues of immigration, national security and commercial relations. These distant neighbors –as journalist Alan Riding once described them – are closer than ever and the idea of a new start is always emotional.
The year 2024 offers that opportunity. It only comes every 12 years.