Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to visit Mexico City Labor Day weekend, his first trip abroad, and will lead a prominent delegation of Texans eager to move forward amid turbulent times between once solid neighbors, The Dallas Morning News has learned.
Details are still being fleshed out for the first trip of a Texas governor to Mexico since 2007, but people familiar with the agenda say the visit is aimed at underscoring economic, cultural and political integration between the two sides. Texas and Mexican officials, along with business leaders, will focus on mending fences, strengthening trade and border security and exploring increases in the telecommunications, airlines and energy opportunities. Abbott is expected to invite President Enrique Peña Nieto to visit Texas either later this year, or sometime in 2016, depending on the president’s agenda. The governor’s spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
The visit comes as polarizing issues bring to question the basis for what many once considered a solid friendship that over the years has fallen on hard times. This is in part due to factors within Texas and others to the presidential campaign in which candidates, led by billionaire Donald Trump, are using Mexico as a convenient piñata (punching bag) as a way of making splashy headlines and gaining in polls, analysts say.
“Abbott heads to Mexico as many leaders in his party—and potential presidential candidates—have fallen to Mexico bashing,” said Shannon K. O’Neil, a Mexico expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Two Nations Indivisible. “While this bravado appeals to a vociferous group of republican voters, it runs counter to Texas’ self interest, given the importance of Mexico for the state’s economy and well being…”
Mexico is Texas’ largest export market—buying over $100 billion a year from Texas companies. Combined, the two sides trade over $200 billion, double the trade between Mexico and the United Kingdom. The U.S. Commerce department estimates this trade supports over 300,000 Texan jobs.
“Mexico-Texas ties go far beyond economic exchanges, as families span the border as well,” O’Neil added.
On Monday, in an unusual move, Mexico filed an amicus curiae brief against Texas in a lawsuit filed by four women whose children have been denied birth certificates by the Texas Department of State Health Services based on the mother’s legal status in the United States.
The lawsuit, filed in May, includes Mexican, Honduran and Guatemalan plaintiffs represented by the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, arguing that the birth certificate refusals is a violation of the 14th Amendment which recognizes that children born on U.S. soil are citizens, regardless of whether their parents were citizens.
In the last year, according to the legal aid group and the Mexican government, Texas’ Vital Statistics Unit department has denied parents without proper authorization birth certificates and been told they will not accept the so-called “matriculas consulares” – photo ID cards issued by the Mexican Consulates on U.S. soil, or Mexican passports without a current visa.
The move, said Mexican Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, has “detrimental consequences” for Mexican nationals. His remarks were made during a regional conference of Hispanic journalists in Austin over the weekend. Gonzalez added that he believes the two sides have a “matured enough” relationship that can overcome such prickly matters.
The legal team led by attorney Jennifer Harbury is seeking a court order to reinstate the use of the matricula consular and foreign passports as valid proof of identity for undocumented mothers.
The issue is just one of many thorny matters that have widened the gap between Texas and Mexico, even as integration roars like a moveable feast bound by the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s a partnership increasingly based on common values as well as common interests.
“States like Texas depend enormously on exports to Mexico to create jobs at home, and increasingly there is a great deal of Mexican investment coming to cities like Dallas and San Antonio to start or expand businesses there,” said Andrew Selee, a Mexico expert at the Washington-based Wilson Center. “Dozens of big American companies, like Borden Milk, America’s second largest milk and dairy provider which is headquartered in Dallas, are actually owned by Mexicans today. This is also true of the biggest American cement and bread companies.”
In his trip to Mexico City, O’Neil added: “Abbott needs to find a way to return to and build on benefits of these close ties, moving past both his own and other politicians’ recent words and unfounded accusations again Mexico and Mexicans.”