Election in Mexico Could Upend Joe Biden’s Border Strategy

The Biden administration is waiting on the edge of their seats as Mexican citizens head to the polls this weekend to vote for the successor to President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Little is known about the policies candidate Claudia Sheinbaum, who, according to polls, holds a double-digit lead over her opponent, would implement. That lack of clarity could create issues for the White House months before the U.S. election, in particular, if Mexico upends the border agreements that have reduced illegal immigration.

Sheinbaum, if elected, would have the legal authority to reverse an April agreement that Lopez Obrador entered into with President Joe Biden that the White House touted this week as having a positive effect in the reduction of arrests of illegal immigrants at the southern U.S. border, according to the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan global affairs think tank located in Washington, D.C.

“The next Mexican President has the authority to undo the late April Agreements since the Mexican government reported they were cooperation commitments,” wrote the acting director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, Lila Abed, in a statement Thursday. “Constitutionally, the President has the authority to coordinate Mexico’s foreign policy.”

Josh Trevino, from the conservative Public Policy Foundation—a conservative think tank in Texas—said it’s partly the fault of Joe Biden’s administration that little is known about how a Sheinbaum administration would approach the agreement. 

“You cannot blame Sheinbaum for it. You can’t blame the Mexicans for it. It’s our fault that we don’t really know. And that’s going to bear some fruit,” Trevino, TPPF’s chief of intelligence and research.

Millions of voters in Mexico will head to the polls Sunday to choose their next president.

Lopez Obrador is term-limited and will be replaced by the winner in October. Only a month later, American voters will head to the polls in November to choose between preemptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and incumbent Democrat President Joe Biden. 

Immigration is the most critical issue among U.S. voters, ahead of foreign policy and the economy. The Biden administration took action earlier in the year to attempt to block the flow of migrants surging across the border and improve the situation.

Lopez Obrador and Biden spoke by phone in late April. They said they had “ordered their national security teams to work together to immediately implement concrete measures to significantly reduce irregular border crossings while protecting human rights,” according to an April 29 joint statement. 

White House: U.S. relations with Mexico are in a good place; expect cooperation 

The White House maintained during the week that U.S. relations with Mexico were in a good place and expected cooperation to continue in the upcoming months as Mexico elects a new leader.

“We have every hope and expectation that it will [continue],” said John Kirby, White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, during a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “We certainly have no expectation that Mexican cooperation and support is going to diminish.”

The top two polling candidates are Xóchitl Gálvez of the conservative National Action Party and Sheinbaum, former Mexico City mayor and member of the Morena party. Either candidate would be the first female president of Mexico.

Sheinbaum is a member of the same Morena party as Lopez Obrador, which he founded a decade ago. She has campaigned on the platform of reducing nationwide crime through a strategy she implemented to reduce Mexico City murders successfully. 

However, Sheinbaum is facing significant corporation-sized criminal organizations known as cartels that control each state and city throughout the country and profit billions of dollars annually by facilitating drug trafficking and human smuggling. Violence in Mexico is driven by cartels and against the government.

She has planned to double the number of federal investigators, increase the number of military troops in the National Guard, and reform judicial policies in a move that is in line with Lopez Obrador’s actions.

However, Sheinbaum hasn’t indicated whether she will continue with the April agreement.

“There’s not a lot of evidence there, nor does her public policy career prior to seeking the presidency really give us much insight into what she might do,” Treviño said. “Claudia Sheinbaum has been very, very careful to allow no daylight between her and AMLO on policy. … We don’t know what we’re going to get. What she has promised the Mexican domestic audience is continuity.”

Theresa Cardinal Brown from the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington said Steinbaum is a policy-minded politician who is more similar to Biden than to non-politicians Trump and Lopez Obrador.

“She represents the same political coalition [as Lopez Obrador],” said the senior adviser on immigration and border policy for BPC Brown. “Biden is more policy-minded. They may hit it off fine.”

Professor at the University of Texas at Austin Dr. Néstor P. Rodríguez, whose research tracks migration through Mexico, said the continuation of a partnership to deal with migration issues may not dramatically impact U.S. southern border migration because there are so many additional factors that impact migrants’ decision to flee. 

“Mexico has been pretty active in moving migrants to southern areas away from the U.S. border so there is some truth to Kirby’s claim, but there are other important variables too in the equation. Migration always fluctuates,” Rodríguez said.

Any change to how Mexico and the United States deal with the shared border may not come until after the November election when Mexico will know who will be in the White House for the next four years.

“In terms of how they will deal with immigration and the U.S., they do not have many degrees of freedom,” wrote Rodríguez in an email. “They will very likely follow the U.S. line (especially if Trump is elected.” The U.S. controls the economic strong cards.”

In addition to immigration and border security, the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement on trade brokered by the Trump administration in 2020 is also up for renegotiation in 2026.