Congratulations to President Joe Biden for persuading Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, to meet with him in Washington on July 12 to discuss key Mexico-U.S. issues, especially those pertaining to the border. I believe, however, that much of the credit should go to the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, who has done something that no other American official has been able to do – build a relationship with López Obrador.

C. Morgan Smith

On July 5, the New York Times published a front-page article entitled “Biden Envoy’s Cozy Ties to Mexican Leader Worry US Officials.” It was a hatchet job designed to undercut Salazar.

I worked with Salazar in the administration of Colorado Gov. Roy Romer in the 1990s and always found him to be highly focused and a person of the highest integrity. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Salazar was a powerful leader for Colorado and he continued that leadership as Secretary of the Interior from 2009-2013.

López Obrador stood up for Salazar when he was attacked by the Times and I think that this was what prompted him to go to Washington to meet with Biden, someone for whom he has never shown much respect.

Although the first half of López Obrador’s six-year term has been disastrous, his approval ratings are above 60% — much higher than Biden’s — and his party, Morena, won four of six governor’s races in June. Mexico’s president  is on more solid ground politically than is Biden.

The major result of this brief meeting was López Obrador’s commitment of $1.5 billion to border security issues.

How could this work? Consider drugs, for example, because fentanyl, the subject of major legislation in Colorado’s recent legislative session, was also discussed.

One of the anti–immigration claims is that migrants are flooding the United States with illegal drugs like fentanyl. This is simply untrue. The vast majority of the drugs entering the U.S. from Mexico come in large trucks. Yes, we could search all of them, but the traffic delays this would cause would be catastrophic. After all, Mexico is Colorado’s second-largest trading partner.

What is needed is technology that could be used to screen these trucks without causing huge delays. With López Obrador’s commitment, this potential remedy can advance more quickly.

There are several other border issues that can result from this presidential meeting.

On each of my monthly trips to the Juárez area, I stop at the border wall between Anapra, Mexico, and Sunland Park, N.M., and talk to both the Mexican soldiers who guard the Mexican side and the Border Patrol officers on the American side.

The Mexican soldiers always say that they are guarding the wall and that no migrants are crossing into the United States. The Border Patrol officers claim that between 50 and 100 migrants attempt to cross every night. Obviously, there is a need for cooperation and communication between the two sides.

Another issue pertains to the migrant shelters, especially those on the Mexican side such as La Casa del Migrante and Respettrans in Juárez, and Tierra de Oro in Palomas. U.S. courts have ruled that Biden can do away with Trump’s Remain in Mexico program; therefore, asylum seekers who have passed their credible-fear tests will be able to enter the United States and live with family members or sponsors while awaiting their final judicial hearing.

This will reduce congestion in the shelters in highly dangerous cities like Juárez on the Mexican side, but this decrease will probably be more than offset by an expected increase in the number of asylum seekers coming north to the border and waiting on the Mexican side for their first asylum hearing.

Accordingly, there will be a continuing need to support these shelters, most of which now receive more support from American volunteers than they do from their own country. López Obrador can change this.

The López Obrador-Biden relationship has been unnecessarily unproductive, especially considering how many common issues there are between our two countries. López Obrador snubbed Biden in June by refusing to attend Biden’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, and has remained neutral in regard to the Russian war against Ukraine. He has also made it difficult for foreign companies to invest in Mexico, which is a big loss for Colorado’s many excellent environmental companies in particular.

I credit Colorado’s Ken Salazar with this meeting and hope that it will be the beginning of a new era of cooperation.

C. Morgan Smith, of Santa Fe, N.M., was director of the Colorado International Trade Office under Gov. Roy Romer. He travels to the border monthly to work with a variety of humanitarian groups.