Following a controversial and hastily thrown together bilateral meeting behind closed doors on Wednesday, GOP nominee Donald Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto held a tense press conference in which they politely disagreed about immigration, trade, and jobs.
Speaking first, President Peña Nieto tore into the core argument of Trump’s campaign — that illegal immigration across the U.S. Mexico border is out of control.
“Undocumented immigration from Mexico to the U.S. had its highest point 10 years ago and it has slowed down consistently, even to the point of being negative in a net effect at this point,” said Peña Nieto, referring to data that supports these claims. He added that Trump’s portrayal of the border as a one-way street is “a clearly incomplete version” that “doesn’t account for the illegal flow” of money and firearms that goes into Mexico from the United States.
“Every year, millions of dollars and weapons come in from the north that strengthen the cartels and other criminal organizations that generate violence in Mexico,” Peña Nieto pointed out, adding that criminals in the U.S. benefit from the sale of illegal drugs.
Mexico’s president, who is deeply unpopular in his own country, also pushed back against Trump’s frequent rhetoric disparaging the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “I shared with Mr. Trump my belief that NAFTA has been good for both the US and Mexico,” he said, adding that Trump’s characterization of multilateral trade deals having winners and losers is inaccurate. “Trade is not a zero sum endeavor.”
Trump stood stiffly at his podium during Peña Nieto’s statement, not looking at the Mexican president. When it was his turn to speak, he hammered the importance of building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Having a secure border is a sovereign right,” he said. “We recognize and respect the right of either country to build a physical barrier or wall on any of its borders to stop the illegal movement of people, drugs, and weapons.”
He then hinted at his frequent boast that he would force Mexico to pay for such a wall, which is estimated to cost billions of dollars, saying: “Cooperation toward achieving the shared objective, and it will be shared, of safety for all citizens is paramount to the United States and Mexico.”
But when reporters present pinned Trump down on whether he directly asked Mexico to pay for the wall, as he has led supporters at nearly all of his rallies to believe, he demurred. “Who pays for the wall? We didn’t discuss that. This was a very preliminary meeting.”
In a follow-up statement after his joint press conference, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said that he had in fact told Donald Trump that Mexico would not pay for his proposed border wall.
Mexican president says he told Trump they’re not paying for the wall pic.twitter.com/UroCBcS7O2
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) August 31, 2016
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