New president, old policies? How Mexico's Claudia Sheinbaum on drugs, immigration may impact the US

It is unclear whether Sheinbaum will be much different than her predecessor. Meanwhile, 2023 was the sixth year in a row that Mexico saw more than 30,000 homicides.
Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City, Mexico, June 3, 2024

Mexico welcomes its new president, Claudia Sheinbaum, but questions remain as to whether her policies, especially those regarding illegal immigration, drugs and widespread violence, will be any different for the United States than those of her predecessor.

While Sheinbaum has said she is different from her mentor, outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, she is a member of his left-wing Morena party and she appealed to voters on the campaign trail by promising to continue his legacy, The New York Times reported Monday.

It may be in Sheinbaum's best interest to follow in the footsteps of Lopez Obrador. Although Mexico's constitution limits presidents to a single six-year term, as of April, Lopez Obrador's approval rating was 66%, according to a poll from the firm Oraculus. His popularity likely helped glide Sheinbaum to victory with up to 60% of the vote going in her favor.

Sheinbaum has echoed Lopez Obrador in calling for foreign investment in Latin America. Ariel Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute, told Just the News that he is going to watch to see whether Mexico's new president will go further than her predecessor by giving more in foreign investments.

Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation for American Imiigration Reform, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce immigration levels, told Just the News that the United States should "expect a decent level of cooperation" with Sheinbaum to stop illegal immigration, but ultimately, such policy decisions are made north of the border in Washington, D.C.

Ruiz said that U.S. policy has broader regional implications, but now, Mexico is coming to terms with becoming a "destination and transit country," rather than a country of emigration, as it was about a decade ago.

There is a chance that under the Sheinbaum administration, Mexico could "step up into leadership roles in the region and try to create more consensus about how to work together in Latin America," Ruiz added.

Victoria Coates, deputy national security adviser to former President Donald Trump, predicted that Sheinbaum will "do absolutely nothing to stem the just crisis at our southern border."

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera columnist Belen Fernandez on Monday called the election a "victory for organized crime." In her latest column, Fernandez wrote about how the cartels were accused of assassinating more than two dozen candidates before the election, and hundreds more left their races.

"After all, there is no time like the biggest election in Mexican history to show who will really be calling the shots in the coming years," Fernandez wrote. "[I]t is safe to assume that violence, official corruption, and impunity will remain the name of the game."

On the "Just the News, No Noise" television show Monday, Coates said that to get elected in Mexico, a politician either needs to take a strong stance against the cartels, or it suggests they some type of relationship with the cartels. Coates noted that she hadn't "heard anything" from Sheinbaum on the cartels. 

Lopez Obrador utilized the policy of "hugs, not bullets," to deal with crime, although as of 2023 was the sixth year in a row that Mexico saw more than 30,000 homicides, according to Semafor. Mexico is often rated in the world's top ten nations for violent crime, and its murder rate was recorded in 2022 as 26.11 per 100,000 people. The global murder rate is 6.1 per 100,000 people.

Ruiz said that while Sheinbaum may not use the phrase, "hugs, not bullets," she will likely continue the policy. 

"The local level is more important than the institutional level, especially when it comes to crime and corruption," when addressing such issues, Ruiz said.

Sheinbaum is set to be inaugurated Oct. 1, just over a month before the U.S. election. Regardless of who wins in the U.S., Sheinbaum said she expects to have a "good relationship" with them, according to Newsweek.

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