Biden, US-Mexico Border Crisis Loom Large in Sheinbaum’s Early Hours

(Bloomberg) -- Claudia Sheinbaum had mere hours to enjoy the victory that will make her Mexico’s first female president before her northern neighbor reminded her how difficult the new gig will be.

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A congratulatory call from President Joe Biden on Monday came amid reports that he would sign an executive order limiting asylum claims at the country’s southern border, the most drastic immigration crackdown of his time in the White House — and a bucket of cold water for Mexico’s newest leader.

The call between Biden and Sheinbaum was cordial, both said in social media posts afterward. The White House declined to say if Biden mentioned the order during the call that nevertheless illustrated the fraught nature of ties between the two nations that are each other’s largest trading partner.

Sheinbaum will take office just weeks before the US election, a race that will set the stage for the Mexican leader with little prior foreign policy experience to navigate swirling questions about China’s investment in her nation, a looming potential rewrite of a continental trade pact, the millions of migrants arriving at the border — and the possible return of Donald Trump.

The challenges are steep with Biden, who is facing electoral pressure on the border while weighing a crackdown on adversarial nations like China that have sought footholds in Mexico in order to gain greater access to the US market.

A victory for Trump, meanwhile, would intensify the spotlight on Mexico: On the trail, he has repeatedly vowed to close the southern border to illegal immigration and promised to initiate the largest mass deportation effort in US history. One of his top priorities is to finish the border wall he started in his first term; he has also threatened 100% tariffs on cars made in Mexico by Chinese companies.

Read More: AMLO Protege Sheinbaum Becomes First Female President in Mexico

Balancing the demands of US presidents with their own policy aims is a perpetual challenge for Mexican leaders, albeit one that Sheinbaum’s predecessor and mentor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has often seemed to relish.

AMLO, as he is known, has lashed out at Texas lawmakers for their “politicking” on border issues but overcame an uneasy start to forge a surprisingly cordial bond with Trump. He often still reminisces about the relationship the pair of nationalist leaders shared, no matter that Trump once threatened to invade Mexico.

But Trump maintained few such connections with prominent female counterparts: He openly criticized former UK Prime Minister Theresa May and reserved some of his strongest ire for former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who in one infamous meeting sat stone-faced alongside Trump in the Oval Office.

Biden and AMLO, meanwhile, have reached a truce on migration matters, even while the Mexican leader regularly makes a point of challenging the US: Lopez Obrador famously demanded that the country send back a top general who had been arrested in the US and frequently mocks the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Read More: Mexico’s Presidential Frontrunner Sheinbaum on Trump, Migration

Sheinbaum has pledged to maintain a “good relationship” with the US no matter who wins the election. She has so far remained diplomatic about the issues of the day, saying that Mexico will meet its global climate commitments and that she wants to see an end to the killing of innocent civilians in the war between Israel and Hamas. But she’s yet to spill secrets about her broader foreign policy aims.

The US election outcome will likely shape how the White House approaches each of those issues as well. No matter who wins, however, Sheinbaum’s landslide electoral victory on Sunday is likely to give her some power over how her closest counterpart approaches her government — especially when he needs a favor.

“With the levels of support that she has, it would be naive for a US president - whoever they might be - to think that they could control our shared border unilaterally,” said Diego Marroquin, a researcher on North America at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Only working on enforcement on the US side is not going to get us anywhere.”

--With assistance from Stephanie Lai.

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