POLITICS

Trump, Peña Nieto cordially agree to disagree over immigration, free trade

The Republican nominee says Mexico and the United States must end illegal immigration from Central and South America

 

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump took a more conciliatory tone in addressing immigration during his lightning trip to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto, but kept true to his proposal to build a wall on the United States' southern border.

In a joint press conference at the Mexico City presidential residence, Los Piños, Trump and Peña Nieto spoke respectfully of each other while outlining their differences on issues such as immigration and free trade.

“This is a humanitarian disaster,” Trump said of the large number of undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. via Mexico. “It must be solved quickly.”

The GOP nominee, who has in the past derided Mexico as an exporter of rapists and criminals, left out of his remarks his frequent campaign call to deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., instead focusing his remarks on how the U.S. and Mexico can work together to stem the flow of migrants.

“Prosperity will increase when we end illegal immigration,” he said. “Not just between our two countries, but between Central and South America and other parts of the world.”

Trump and Peña Nieto also discussed the candidate's call for a border wall during their meeting, but specified that the two did not talk about the proposal's most contentious part, Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for it.

"We did discuss the wall. We didn't discuss payment of the wall," Trump said.

Trump said that having a secure border is a sovereign right and something that would be mutually beneficial to both countries.

For his part, Peña Nieto walked a fine line, acknowledging the widespread anger that many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans feel toward the proposal, but described the conversation between the two politicians as "open and constructive." He did not, however, shy away from criticizing the U.S. about the amount of firearms that flow into Mexico from the U.S. as a result of the drug trade.

“An important number of Americans see the border as a problem because of the number of undocumented immigrants and drugs that cross the border,” he said. “This does not take into account the millions of illegal dollars and guns that come to Mexico from the U.S.”

The Mexican president's tone was much more measure than a few months ago when he compared Trump's rhetoric to that of Adolf Hitler.

“First of all let me tell you, [Trump] is not welcome to Mexico by 130 million people. We don't like him, we don't want him, we reject his visit,” former President Vicente Fox said on Wednesday morning. “I don't understand why President Peña Nieto has offered this opportunity. I think it's nothing more than a political stunt.”

Trump responded to Fox's criticism on Twitter earlier in the day, saying the former president had, like Peña Nieto, invited him to come to the country when he apologized for "dropping the f-bomb." Fox shot back with a tweet of his own, saying he had invited Trump to "come and apologize to all Mexicans. Stop lying! Mexico is not yours to play with. Show some respect."

Peña Nieto invited both U.S. presidential candidates to come to Mexico City. The inclusion of Trump puzzled many in Mexico, who said it wasn't clear why their own unpopular president would agree to meet with someone so widely disliked in the country.

Mexico City-based security analyst Alejandro Hope suggested that Peña Nieto "wanted to invite Hillary, but that meant inviting both of them, and nobody thought Trump would accept."

The trip, a politically risky move for Trump just ten weeks before Election Day, also came hours before the Republican nominee was expected to deliver a highly-anticipated speech in Arizona about illegal immigration. The issue has been a defining one in Trump's presidential campaign, but also one on which he has appeared to waver in recent days.

"The American people are going to see more clearly that there's one candidate in this race who's prepared to take the steps necessary to end the flood of illegal immigration," Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, said Wednesday on CNN.

Trump will also make clear, Pence told CBS, "that there will be no path to legalization, no path to citizenship. People will need to leave the country to be able to obtain legal status or obtain citizenship."

While immigration is the hot button issue surrounding Trump’s visit to Mexico, the billionaire businessman also brought up his strong dislike of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he said “has been a far greater benefit to Mexico than to the United States.”

“It’s a 22-year-old agreement that should be updated,” he added.

In his remarks, Peña Nieto took a more positive view of the trade agreement, saying that in his view, “NAFTA has been beneficial to both the United States and Mexico.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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