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After Mexico visit, Trump takes hardest line yet against immigration

Despite conciliatory tone with Peña Nieto, candidate rails against migrants at Phoenix rally

Enrique Peña Nieto and Donald Trump shaking hands in Mexico.
Enrique Peña Nieto and Donald Trump shaking hands in Mexico. REUTERS

On Wednesday, Donald Trump set foot in the land that he has offended the most.

In a lightning trip to Mexico, the vociferous Republican candidate to the US presidency met with President Enrique Peña Nieto. After months of making humiliating remarks about Mexicans, the property magnate showcased once again his ability to take over a stage.

You can’t just smuggle in, hunker down and wait to be legalized. Those days are over

US Republican candidate Donald Trump

In an hour-long conversation, Trump failed to apologize for his earlier insults, avoided the thorniest issues, and, playing the statesman, offered his host a new era of “constructive dialogue.” The dramatic effect of the billionaire candidate’s latest move will be hard to digest in Mexico, where many considered the meeting a failure due to Trump’s refusal to take back statements calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.

Aware of his inexorable decline in voting intention back home, Trump has been slowly trying to ingratiate himself with groups that he once openly insulted. So he did not miss the opportunity offered by Peña Nieto’s surprising invitation to come down to Mexico.

“I have great affection for Mexico, we have shared interests, but I want the people of the United States to be protected,” he said in a speech clearly aimed at softening his image. “A prosperous Mexico is in the US’s best interest.”

Later, on Twitter, Peña Nieto said he made it quite clear to Trump that Mexico will not be paying for the wall that the US candidate claims he will build if he is elected president. Yet Trump himself said that “we talked about the wall, but not about who is going to pay for it.”

Peña Nieto did not demand any public apologies, talking instead in conciliatory tones that sought avenues of cooperation.

Donald Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration during a campaign event in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Donald Trump vowed to crack down on illegal immigration during a campaign event in Phoenix on Wednesday. AFP

“We may or may not agree, but his presence shows that our countries are very important to each other,” noted Peña Nieto. “The Mexican community contributes to American prosperity; they are good people who have respect for the institutions of family and the law. They deserve everyone’s respect.”

The meeting may have represented some progress, but it was small compared with the size of the outcry caused by Trump’s presence in Mexico – which has also asked Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to come visit.

But Trump represents a challenge of historical proportions for Peña Nieto’s diplomacy. His calls to build a wall, stop remittances and engage in mass deportations have made him one of the most unpopular people in Mexico and underscored the risk of a break between two nations that share a 3,185-km border. Diplomatic sources said that the goal of the meeting was to avoid that risk and reduce the tension.

But the sight of their president shaking hands with Trump is being viewed as a sellout by the Mexican opposition, and could further sink a leader whose popularity ratings are at an all-time low amid rampant violence and a sluggish economy.

“I believe in dialogue to promote Mexico’s interests. My priority is protecting Mexicans wherever they may be,” said Peña Nieto in self-defense.

A different message in Phoenix

But just hours later, at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump adopted a much harsher tone than the one he had displayed in Mexico City.

The Republican candidate told the crowd that there will be a wall, that Mexico will pay for it, and that he will kick out undocumented migrants and force them to come back into the US legally.

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“Mexico will pay for the wall 100%,” he said. “They still don’t know about it.”

Trump also insisted on his plan for zero tolerance of illegal immigration.

“Our message to the world will be this: You cannot obtain legal status or become a citizen of the United States by illegally entering our country. Can’t do it. This declaration alone will stop the crisis of illegal crossing. You can’t just smuggle in, hunker down and wait to be legalized. Those days are over,” he told a cheering crowd.

Trump then gave up the stage to American families with a relative who was killed by an undocumented migrant, promising to come down hard on “illegal criminals.”

With just two months to go before the election, Trump has returned to the toughest version of his America First rhetoric – the same rhetoric that has allowed him to seduce one half of the Republican Party.

English version by Susana Urra.

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