SAN JUAN, RGV – Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader in the U.S. House, and U.S. Rep. Richard L. Hanna, a Republican from New York, led a bipartisan delegation of legislators to Mexico earlier this week.
They met with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Los Pinos on Monday to discuss U.S.-Mexico trade relations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and immigration. Among those on the trip were Congressman Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Congressman Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.
In addition to Pelosi, Hanna, Cuellar, and O’Rourke, members of Congress on the tour are: Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., Michael Fitzpatrick, R-PA, Michelle Lujan-Grisham, D-NM, Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Ruben Gallego, D-AZ, and Norma Torres, D-Calif.
The delegation is also visiting Chile and Peru. Pelosi said the tour is a recognition of the importance of the relationship between the United States and its Latin American neighbors.
“Our bipartisan delegation travels to Mexico, Peru and Chile to discuss the importance of enhancing security, combating transnational crime, advancing human rights and further strengthening bilateral relations,” Pelosi said. “On the visit, members seek to learn more about how the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will impact the people and economies of the region and the United States. Migration, and specifically the issue of unaccompanied children, will also be a focus in Mexico.”
Discussing the delegation’s meetings in Mexico City, Pelosi said:
“We come here as a bipartisan and large delegation to express our respect for the people of Mexico and the country of Mexico; to acknowledge our shared border and our shared values and to learn more about how we can work together for the bright future for not only our two countries but for our hemisphere.”
Pelosi said the delegation had a busy time in Mexico City.
“When we arrived, we had our country team briefings; we had the privilege – some of us – of going to mass in the cathedral and hearing the sermon on Labor Day on the importance of workers in Mexico, a view we shared. We’ve met with members of the American Chamber of Commerce. We had the privilege of hearing from members of the civil society here in Mexico. We had a very beneficial meeting with Director General Zapata on the subject of the economy and on the subject of TPP especially. And then we had a glorious meeting, a really very thorough exchange of subjects and views – again about our shared values and our shared border – with the President [of Mexico]. Just now we finished a lunch, as you know, with Members of the Federal Deputies – Mexican Federal Deputies – and Senators. And this evening we will have a dinner meeting with the Foreign Minister,” Pelosi said.
“As I acknowledge the weight, the gravity of our delegation both in terms of the number of people, the fact that it is bipartisan, I also want to say that the purpose of our visit was again to express our respect but also to focus on issues like the security of our two countries, the economy of our countries, human rights, migration issues – so many areas in which the U.S. and Mexico work together. In terms of our purpose, we have been fulfilled in many ways with the information we have received, but our visit isn’t over yet. In the meantime, I want you to hear from each of our Members briefly about their purpose in coming and view of what we’ve heard so far. But this next person I’m going to introduce can take as long as he wants. He’s a Republican leader of our delegation, Congressman Richard Hanna of New York.”
Here are some of the questions asked by reporters at the news conference in Mexico City and the answers given by those on the visit:
Q: I wanted to ask about whether Donald Trump’s rhetoric has damaged the relations between Mexico and the United States?
Leader Pelosi: “No.”
U.S. Rep Gallego: “No, Donald Trump does not have the power to break the relations the United States has had with Mexico for over 100 years. It is a problem — and what we want to say as Congress members and leaders of our communities is that our relations with Mexico will continue to be successful. We need to work more so that we can continue our shared relations.”
Q: If Donald Trump’s vision is not that of the U.S., you all in Congress witness similar actions from the other side. How can you overcome that rhetoric that is not just Donald Trump’s?
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: “He does not represent the majority of our country. The United States is a country of immigrants from all over the world. But since we’re in campaign season during the primaries, candidates try their best to grab the media’s attention to one up each other. Instead of focusing on this, let’s focus on ways to work together.”
Q: In your conversations with the Mexican Congressmen, was there any discussion to reverse the Trump effect?
Leader Pelosi: “Let me just say that we came here with an agenda about the security of our two countries and how that affects global security, to talk about migration and to make the distinction and the debate in our country between those who are seeking asylum and refugee status in our country and our traditional debate on immigration, that this is a hemispheric challenge, not just a U.S.-Mexico challenge and how we can work together on that. We’ve come to talk about human rights and workers’ rights in Mexico and the rest. And as you can see, more than a majority of our 11 Members spoke to our hosts in their own language – in Spanish. But, whether we spoke Spanish or English, friendship was never lost in the conversation. We always had friendship in our voice.
“The occasional reference to what was happening in the Presidential election in the United States is not the purpose of our visit and occupied not that much of our time; however, I have to admit: it did come up. And our response has been what you have heard from my colleagues: this election will come and go, and so will Donald Trump.
“But, if you would like to ask any questions about the substantive nature of our visit, we would like to respond to those because we have had very substantial conversations on the subjects I mentioned and others. And this is just coincidentally – we have been planning it for a while and coincidentally happens as the political process is coming to – around the bend, I don’t know, to a close. We’ll see.
“But, we are happy to be coming here shortly after the new Ambassador Roberta Jacobson has been confirmed as the Ambassador in Mexico. We are delighted with our Charge D’Affairs William H. Duncan and the work that he has done. We look forward to welcoming your new Ambassador to the United States, a friend to many of us. So, if you have any questions on the substance. Yes?”
Q: You talk about global security and trade. How does the information of human rights in Mexico and all the allegations of torture of the missing students – is affecting the relationship between the United States and Mexico on a trade level?
Leader Pelosi: “Well, we did hear from the President and others before him, and even before our trip, about the courageous statement of the General to the troops about torture, and we applauded that. That is something quite remarkable and we’re on this subject. But we did have – we brought up subjects – I don’t want to respond. These people were in meetings of how they responded to them. Do any of you want to speak to those issues about – the issue of human rights is a shared value that we have between Mexico and the United States. It’s a deeply held principal for us – that it should be held right up there as a pillar in that relationship between our two countries. So this is important.”
Q: You discussed migration, I heard – specifically child migration. What do you think so far has been the Mexican effort to deal with migration from Central America? Because so far, what we’ve seen is that Mexico has really contained migration but hasn’t really given a very social response to the problem.
U.S. Rep. Roybal-Allard: Well first of all, the relationship between our Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican government in addressing the issue of migration, particularly those coming from Central America has been very, very strong. And we’ve very, very appreciative of the cooperation between your country and the United States.
A lot more work has to be done. There are many, many challenges ahead of us, and that is one of the purposes of this visit, is to meet – we’ve met with your president – and to meet with others to discuss ways on how we can strengthen that partnership, what are the challenges that are faced by both countries and how we can best address them in a way that addresses the migration but in a way that protects – particularly the rights of children – to make sure that those children are treated humanely and that they receive proper representation and justice within our laws.
U.S. Rep. Sanchez: “I would just add that the issues that are confronting Central America was the violence and the unaccompanied minors that are fleeing have – they’re complex and the solutions to them are not going to be easy. Processing is just one issue of that. We are looking for ways in which we can have a regional response to what is happening in Central America, in which we can work cooperatively with the countries in North America to put into place programs, where they can do in-country processing, for example, of refugee claims or asylum claims. We would like the U.N. involved in that process so that unaccompanied minors are not making this dangerous journey north and then landing in a country where they do not understand what their rights are, they do not necessarily have representation or the kind of due process that we would like to see.
“So, we were looking at many ways in which we can partner, into this hemisphere, to try to address the processing and make it safer – but also, the root causes of the violence that drives the migration.”
U.S. Rep. Roybal-Allard: “Because that infrastructure right now is not in place. Then, how do we create that infrastructure to do the things that we discussed?”
U.S. Rep. Torres: “I also want to add that as a result, we recognize that a lot of the interest has been in the Middle East over the last few years. Because of that, we formed a Central American Caucus. It is made up of 34 Members of Congress. It’s a bipartisan caucus. And the purpose of that is to bring awareness to what is happening in Central America, specifically the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
“Beto O’Rourke and I have traveled to El Salvador and Honduras, as well as – we’ve traveled there with Vice President Biden and Senators to Guatemala to address some of those issues. And we are committed to helping with that, and we are grateful to have Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama as partners in dealing with the crisis.”
U.S. Rep. Cuellar: “Can I add: this last Congress, in December, we appropriated $750 [million] to help the Northern Triangle countries. Some are going to say to make sure it goes out as fast as possible, but it’s $750 million dollars to address the issues – the core issues that we have. In the past, we also have appropriated money to help Mexico secure its southern border with Guatemala. And again, I think, the message here is we have got to look at it as a regional perspective. We also have been to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, even Costa Rica with the Cubanos that are coming in largely through Laredo. So what we’re doing is – we want to look at this as a regional approach, work with Mexico and Central America to address these security issues and migration issues.”
U.S. Rep. Lujan-Grisham: “I think your question is, are we satisfied with Mexico’s response? And I think the opportunity for our conversations today, given that it is a very complicated problem – that dealing with it on the front end is far better for everyone. The reality is that we know that it is both countries – Mexico and the United States – are really struggling with how effectively we are responding to this issue and how effective we both are in terms of making sure that our humanitarian efforts are adequate. And this has given us a renewed opportunity to challenge ourselves about how we can both improve our collective efforts because in meeting that challenge – I think we both recognize we could’ve done much better. And we should certainly be doing that going forward.”
U.S. Rep. O’Rourke: “There are two figures I want to highlight. In the year 2000, there were 1.6 million undocumented immigrants within the U.S. border. Last year, there were 400,000 undocumented immigrants, including children, women and families from the Northern Triangle. We cannot solve this problem with walls between the United States and Mexico and between Mexico and Central America. We must work together with Mexico and the other countries to address root causes of this problem. We have the capacity to address — there’s a danger in returning children to harm’s way in Central America.”
U.S. Rep. Hanna: “There are 25 million Americans that visit Mexico every year. One in ten people in America have some relationship with a Mexican, likely a family relationship. We do a half a trillion dollars in trade each year. We have a common history, we have common values, and we understand the struggles that you’re going through. We personally, and only for myself, I think the rhetoric – it’s a political season. I think it’s important that people understand that we regard Mexico as a dear friend and a long-time friend and ally. We see it as an opportunity for trade, for growth and for mutual prosperity. And that in this hemisphere in many ways, we’re all experiencing the same problems and it’s a work in progress. So we’re here to help you with that work in progress and certainly we have work of our own to do. So, thank you.”
Leader Pelosi: “Well, I just want to say that all of the issues that we talk about here are connected. When we talk about human rights, as the young lady asked about human rights, we made it clear in our conversations that the issue about the uncertainty about the students is something that is of concern in our country. Our colleagues on the other side have made it clear to us they are concerned about the migration issue and they are concerned about the rhetoric in the presidential campaign. So we had a straightforward conversation. I think if there was one thread in one meeting it would have been the civil society meeting because we talked about workers’ rights and we talked about lifting up children and human rights across the board and how you reform the judicial system to have justice. And we praise the President for justice being his theme, whether it was worker justice, health justice, environmental justice, you name it. So, we learned a lot from the trip in terms of the priorities of our counterparts here and the wonderful possibilities that are still to come in our relationship – not only the U.S. and Mexico, but they made it clear – including Canada but also from the standpoint of this western hemisphere.
“We are neighbors. We must be friends. We said it in every meeting. If you go to Mr. O’Rourke’s district or Mr. Cuellar’s district, or some of the other districts, it’s one community; it happens to have a border running through it and we want to have, again, that friendship being reflected in our public policy as well.
“So for us, our meetings are not over but this is probably the last time we will see any of you here. We came in friendship. We even made a greater friendship. Our purpose to deepen the relationship I think has been achieved. And I thank my colleagues for the preparation they made to come, the contributions and leadership they made to our meetings. I just couldn’t be prouder and proud to lead the delegation with Mr. Hanna. Thank you all very much. And I, too, want to salute – did I salute William Duncan already? I did. I’ll do it again. Thank you, and thank you to the embassy for your good offices in making such a high-level on your side, on the Mexican side possible to these Members of Congress. Thank you so much.”
Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story have been provided by El Financiero-Bloomberg Mexico. It shows U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar at Los Pinos.