Salvo 03.28.2024 8 minutes

Biden’s Boss Tightens the Screws

North American Leaders’ Summit – Media Message

Mexico’s president has America hooked on what he’s selling.

Yes. He just did that. He went there.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was so supremely confident that his thumb on the scale can tip the U.S. presidential election that he just issued a cash demand to President Biden along with a threat: give me money or Donald Trump wins. The spectacle, shameful for all parties, played out on the grand stage of CBS’s 60 Minutes Sunday broadcast.

As my book Overrun shows, Biden launched and nurtured a mass immigration crisis for three straight years. The knock-on effects of this debacle are now being felt all over the country, and not just in conservative enclaves. These days, Biden’s immigration policy registers as so deeply unpopular with the American people that López Obrador offered the old “silver-or-lead” option to the Biden campaign on national television.

If President Biden wants his mass migration crisis to recede from public view before the election, López Obrador will slow the flow of migrants—for the ripe price of a $20 billion down payment. This cash would be sent under the paper-thin cover of the debunked “root causes” theory of mass migration, which proposes that money from the destination country can rebuild countries generating outmigration so that their citizens want to stay.

And if the U.S. incumbent doesn’t pay the requested $20 billion a year for root causes—“then what?” asked interviewer Sharyn Alfonsi.

“The flow of migrants…will continue,” the president responded simply with a smile worthy of a mafia don.

Your critics, Alfonsi continued, have said that “what you’re asking for to help secure the border is diplomatic blackmail. What do you say?”

“I am speaking frankly, we have to say things as they are, and I always say what I feel. I always say what I think,” the Mexican president responded.

Everyone in this space knows that “root causes” is a euphemism for sending unaccountable American cash down a black corruption hole in developing countries. That’s not in doubt. But the big question that many Democratic and Republican politicians, as well as private citizens who saw this interview, must be asking is whether this public extortion proposition is credible.

Does a retiring Mexican president with six months left on his clock really have so much say over whether Donald Trump beats Joe Biden that he could ask for $20 billion to tip things toward Biden?

The short answer is: yes. Yes, he absolutely does.

The longer answer is that Obrador has spent the last few months hooking Biden into this scheme like a TV streaming service offering a one week’s free trial of a particularly addictive show until the steep permanent price kicks in. Since Christmas, Obrador has taken measures to drastically reduce illegal immigration flows. That’s the bait. Now Biden’s hooked.

Most CBS viewers might well remember the huge torrents of 10,000, 12,000, and 14,000 immigrants per day who poured over the border illegally into Texas, Arizona, and California throughout October, November, and December. Sustained media coverage of these numbers—and canny chess moves by red state governors to draw attention to them—drove polls so far down that Biden himself went to Mexico just before Christmas to beg López Obrador to clamp down. The administration followed up five days later with trips by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

The resulting action by Mexico was nothing short of astonishing in that it showed what Biden and López Obrador could have done at any point during the last three years. Almost instantly they dropped the 12,000-14,000 illegal crossings a day to 4,000-6,000. The international media spotlight swung elsewhere.

That was the free trial. Even before New Year’s, Obrador deployed more than 32,150 regular Army troops in January for something called the “Migration Plan on the northern and southern border”—according to Mexican media, since U.S. media was completely out to lunch on this story. A content analysis of Mexican media reveals all the brutal details.

Forces under control of Mexico’s central government began rounding up tens of thousands of immigrants in the country’s north, forcing them onto buses and airplanes to southern cities like Tapachula in Chiapas State (on the border with Guatemala) and Villahermosa in Tabasco State. They were all expected to go home or stay put alongside those continuing to enter from Guatemala.

They’d be held back in those provinces to wait for a snail’s-pace bureaucracy to approve individual travel papers, hemmed in behind federal road checks, à la the Gaza Strip.

The new year brought new scenes in big Mexican border cities—like Piedras Negras across from the once-swamped Eagle Pass, Texas, and the city of Juarez—the same ones where jam-packed trains once arrived in fall 2023. Now they show up nearly empty.

“Agents from the National Migration Institute can be seen chasing migrants from the banks of the river who do not give up and are waiting for the moment to be able to cross to the U.S. side,” the Juarez Herald reported in a January 11 story, headlined “Military Prevents Migrant Families from Crossing to the U.S.”

The forced exodus from Piedras Negras began just before Christmas on the eve of Biden’s state visit. By December 31, at least 22 flights—and as many as 30—departed from that city to Mexico’s south, according to the migrant advocacy group Witness to the Border.

Orders for the flights from Piedras Negras came from on high in Mexico City, Diario de Tabasco reported. They were complemented by ten buses of migrants per day.


The last time I visited Piedras Negras was in late February. On previous visits, immigrants had always been ubiquitous. This time, the only immigrants I could find were in a group of 200, hiding out from the troops behind the skirts of nuns in a Catholic Church-run shelter. They told me they were afraid even to venture out to buy a taco across the street for fear of Army Humvees still rounding up any they could catch.

Immigrants hide out from Mexican soldiers in Piedras Negras inside a Catholic Church shelter. February 2024 photo by Todd Bensman

“They are protecting themselves,” said shelter director Sister Isabel Turcios to me, as her cowering charges hid from “persecution by Mexican immigration.”

None of this was a secret. It just went unreported in the United States. I interviewed Mexican Army soldiers who readily told me their orders were to catch as many immigrants as they could and ship them south, with no end date on the deployment.

Perhaps one of Mexico’s most consequential slow down measures was its decision, finally, to shut down immigrant access to “La Bestia.” That’s what they call the system of cargo trains that have super-powered the Biden border crisis for three years. They’ve transported hundreds of thousands of migrants from deep southern Mexico to its northern border cities.

In January 2023, I returned from a field research trip and published dispatches establishing that La Bestia was quietly enabling the illegal migration crisis at the U.S. southern border, that Mexico was allowing it to run unfettered, and that Biden, unlike prior presidents like Obama, had never pressured Mexico to stop the use of the trains by migrants.

Three years too late, López Obrador’s troops shut down the tracks at Biden’s request—often brutalizing the immigrants, some of whom chose rather to risk death or mutilation by jumping under the tracks.

Mexican media reports that Mexico City has ordered its military to blockade railyards like the ones I visited in my reporting in Monterrey and Piedras Negras, to stop migrating foreigners from boarding. They began rousting immigrants already on freight trains that briefly stopped or slowed down en route to northern Mexican cities.

“Migrants report finding it extremely difficult to reach [northern Mexico], as authorities, including immigration and the National Guard, stop their progress along train tracks,” a January 10 story in the Chihuahua Herald reported.

But that’s not all the Mexican government did.

To eliminate another obvious draw, Mexican authorities emptied and then bulldozed at least one longstanding migrant camp in Matamoros (across from Brownsville, TX), where non-profit groups often handed out basic necessities. The army also reportedly dug deep anti-pedestrian trenches in the heavily trammeled region across from Brownsville to deny further easy access.

“Notably, Mexico also reinstated deportation flights to Venezuela with two flights,” the watchdog group Witness at the Border reported in its December press release.

In a story headlined “Truncated American Dream: Learn about Miguel’s Story,” the Tabasco Herald described how Mexican immigration agents rounded up Guatemalan Don Miguel and his six children from the Matamoros camp on December 31. They shipped him to Villahermosa, where he has requested transit back to Guatemala for lack of food and money.

In another move, the Mexicans dug trenches in spots along its side of the river to deter immigrant crossers.

The top priority for the Biden campaign—distinct in this situation from the priorities of the Biden Administration—was to get those terrible visuals of 14,000 apprehensions a day out of the news, ahead of an election many predict will be won or lost on thin margins.

Less clear are López Obrador’s motivations. Since he is leaving office, he’ll not have to contend with a hated Donald Trump deporting thousands of immigrants back into his country like last time. Perhaps it is that after November, when he does finish his own term having secured $20 billion, the president will head off to a perhaps much cushier retirement as a much wealthier elder statesman.

He’s closer than ever to it. Now that López Obrador has soundly shown he can indeed drastically improve the mass migration optics for Biden’s campaign, he knows well he is in the pilot’s chair. He’s clearly decided it’s time to pull on the throttle.

It’s no coincidence that his demand for cash comes right as the big Mexican operation seems to be easing up. More immigrants are showing up on the trains again, and average daily illegal crossings have moved from the 5,000-a-day range in January and February to 7,000 a day in March.

If this continues, the Trump campaign will soon be cutting new anti-Biden advertising reels showing the border awash in humanity again.

The thing to watch now is whether the Biden campaign sends those “root causes” checks. Then we’ll know who’s in charge.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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