During a visit to Texas this week, Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary José Antonio Meade Kuribreña met Thursday with Gov. Greg Abbott at the Governor's Mansion, where an Abbott spokesperson said they discussed border security, infrastructure and trade. Abbott said at a news conference that he had also accepted Meade's invitation to visit Mexico.
Meade, who previously served as a secretary of energy and secretary of finance under former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, also visited the University of Texas at Austin, where a deal was signed to allow top science and technology researchers to work temporarily at the university.
On Thursday, Meade spoke to The Texas Tribune about border economics and security, immigration, and the need for Texas and Mexico to keep their relationship strong in the face of changing dynamics on both sides of the Rio Grande.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.
Texas Tribune: Newly appointed Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos has been to Mexico City. It was deemed as an important step to ensure ties between Mexico and Texas remain strong. But Gov. Greg Abbott, as attorney general, has been a leader in the charge against the president’s immigration action, which would have benefited hundreds of thousands of Mexicans. Is there any tension there [between you and the governor]?
Meade Kuribreña: First, there are very few relationships as important to Mexico as the one that we have with Texas. To put it in perspective, the U.S. trades with Great Britain less than Mexico trades with Texas. So for us it’s important to take advantage of the signals that have been sent by this new administration. One of those important issues has to do with migration. We feel that the closer the gap between the rights of the immigrants and the rights of the citizens, the better it will be for those immigrants to have a better relationship where they are living now, and even the country of their origin.
TT: Former Gov. Rick Perry said that you can’t have a discussion about immigration reform without border security. He was also critical of Mexico during last summer’s migration surge, saying it didn't do enough to prevent Central Americans from breaching its border. Do you think Mexico has taken steps in the right direction? Or do you think that criticism was warranted?
Meade: We think that border security is a shared responsibility. And we think that border security has to be looked at from a joint perspective. And we think it needs to be addressed from that perspective, and that is something that we have recognized for a long time. The border has many elements to it. If viewed as a single economic region, it is very dynamic and very important, and it would be the fourth-largest economic region in the world. Mexico is doing what needs to be done in terms of security in our side, and we are committed to continuing doing it.
TT: Migration from Mexico is at net zero, or perhaps even more people are returning than coming …
Meade: It has been zero or negative since 2010.
TT: Mexico also has, according to Forbes, 16 of the richest people on Earth. Collectively they are responsible for 11.5 percent of the country’s economy. Is seems like there is a small percent that owns a lot. And a large percent that don’t have a lot.
Meade: Not just in Mexico, but in Latin America, you have an important challenge with inequality. Collectively, we have done a good job of lifting people out of poverty. But the challenge of inequality is still very much present, even though as a region inequality has been trending downward in Latin America. But inequality is also an issue in the United States, so I think that from a policy perspective it’s a challenge that we both face. We think we have done a good job in terms of security but also in creating more opportunities. The [energy and education] reforms are now being implemented and showing results and promise. So we think that the trends we have seen should probably continue.
TT: Next year, there is a presidential election in this country. We’re all familiar with Donald Trump’s statements and what he said about Mexico. Former Gov. Perry said that was inappropriate. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Trump has a right to say what he thinks and he should be praised for bringing the issue of illegal immigration to the forefront. Do you have any comments on Trump's statements?
Meade: When in politics, any time that you bring prejudice, racism and just plain ignorance, it’s not a good mix.
TT: Is President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security plan working? Because it seems to be that folks in the Rio Grande Valley don’t think it’s working in Tamaulipas.
Meade: If you put Mexico in order by level of violence, you see a picture on two levels. On the absolute level, you have regions in the country that are very stable and at peace. You have some parts of the country where the levels are comparable to what you see to Detroit or New Orleans or New Jersey. On average, Mexico, having seen the peak of violence in 2011, is now exactly at the Latin American average. That places us a little bit above Ecuador and a little bit below Panama. Last year, more than two-thirds of the states observed a decrease in the level of violence, and those were the states where about 80 percent of the population lived. What we are doing in Tamaulipas is what we did in Ciudad Juárez, and what we have done in every single one of these states: reinforce the local capacity with federal intervention.
TT: There was a recent development announced that Mexico would allow U.S. agents to carry arms in trade and immigration zones. What led to that change?
Meade: A recognition that we’re able to look at North America as one region. One way to make that view operational was to be able to do preclearance of people and cargo. That required us to be able to provide reciprocity in terms of the agents that are going to do that.
TT: Do you have an early endorsement of any of the candidates running for U.S. president?
Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.