Mexico’s president didn’t meet with President Joe Biden at the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles in June. He was upset that some of his Latin American allies from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were not invited so he didn’t show up.

But Andrés Manuel López Obrador did show up at the White House last week. He met with President Biden and they discussed immigration to gas prices.

After the meeting it was announced that Mexico would invest $1.5 billion on border infrastructure between 2022 and 2024. President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $3.4 billion to undertake 26 major construction and modernization projects at land ports of entry on the northern and southern border.

The bill states: “The funds are split between General Services Administration (GSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The funds will allow GSA and CBP to execute construction and modernization at all ports on CBP’s Five-Year Plan as well as those identified as a priority for upgrades. Port modernization improves border security while also improving the efficient flow of travel and trade across our land border. Funds are also included for port of entry paving projects, the acquisition of leased ports and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration facility needs.”

While details are scarce, this sounds like more border enforcement. What the U.S. and Mexico need to do is invest in jobs that allow people to make a living wage regardless of what side of the border they live on. But not if those jobs make the border a more militarized zone.

After the two presidents met, Mexico and the U.S. reaffirmed their commitment to launch a bilateral working group on labor migration pathways and worker protections. 

“The tragic deaths of migrants at the hands of human smugglers in San Antonio further strengthens our determination to go after the multi-billion-dollar criminal smuggling industry preying on migrants and increase our efforts to address the root causes of migration,” both presidents said in a joint statement.

It seems the Mexican president gave the U.S. president an earful as he spoke 30 minutes nonstop, giving remarks before reporters.

AMLO praised the Bracero program under President Roosevelt, even though it has been much much criticized by historians and the exploits documented by journalists.

“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,” López Obrador said. “Certainly, the program was not exempt from mistakes, abuses, and non-compliance.  However, there is no doubt that it had very good results at the productive and labor levels.”

López Obrador spoke about the need for immigration reform and the challenges of working with Republicans.

“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,” he said. “But without a daring, a bold program of development and wellbeing, it will not be possible to solve problems.  It will not be possible to get the people’s support.” 

The Mexican president also encouraged people in the U.S. to go to Mexico to buy cheaper gas.

“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 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,” the Mexican president said.

He pointed out that a gallon of regular gas costs $4.78 average in the U.S. and $3.12 in Mexico.

López Obrador is right in acknowledging the border economies are intertwined. We need more policies to support economic growth and less investment in border enforcement.