With violence spilling over the Mexican border into the U.S., President Felipe Calderon should have little trouble securing support for his battle against drugs when he meets U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Monday.
But as wars and economic crisis take center stage in the U.S., Calderon may have a tougher time persuading Obama to make immigration reform a top priority.
Calderon's office said Sunday in a statement that he will press for "better conditions for Mexicans in the United States, based on respect for their rights," and may express concerns over stepped-up migrant raids.
He might expect a friendly reception from Obama, who last year supported an unsuccessful immigration reform bill that would have given millions of undocumented migrants a path to citizenship.
Yet Obama's administration won't likely rush to overhaul immigration law while joblessness and foreclosures climb in the U.S., said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. If anything, the flagging U.S. economy will pile pressure on Obama to emphasize border security and keep illegal immigrants out.
"The chance of having immigration reform is like having it snow in the dessert," Grayson said. "With the unemployment rate surging in the United States and the economy expected to shrink this year, it is not a hospitable time to invite more workers into the country."
Obama's pick for homeland security chief, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, has backed tough immigration policies in the past, including sending National Guard troops to the border and punishing employers for hiring illegal immigrants. But both she and Obama have supported giving driver's licenses to undocumented migrants.
While Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, pressed for profound U.S. immigration reform including giving undocumented workers legal status – which became known as "the whole enchilada" – Calderon may have to settle for smaller, piecemeal measures.
"Calderon continues to emphasize the contribution that Mexican workers make to the U.S. economy," Grayson said. "He hopes that while there may not be an opportunity for the whole enchilada, there may be some tacos coming Mexico's way."
Also complicating immigration reform is the war on drugs, which has increasingly defined U.S.-Mexico relations. Drug-related homicides doubled in Mexico last year, led by rising murder rates in cities across the border from the U.S. Some Mexicans, especially police officers, have fled north seeking safe haven from death threats.
Last month, the U.S. Justice Department called Mexican cartels the biggest organized crime threat to the United States, saying they are increasingly pairing up with the Italian Mafia and other gangs to control distribution in American cities.
Calderon also meets outgoing President George W. Bush on Tuesday to discuss anti-crime partnerships, the White House press office said Saturday. He also plans to visit financial experts, academics and congressional leaders.
Calderon, who has been praised by U.S. officials for deploying troops to fight cartels and capturing top drug kingpins, already won a multimillion-dollar anti-drug aid package from Washington last year.
Obama supports that plan, known as the Merida Initiative, and promises to take up another cause that Calderon champions: stopping the smuggling of guns from the U.S. to Mexico, which the Washington-based Brookings Institute says has reached a volume of 2,000 weapons a day.
Obama has said that "southbound" strategy will complement the "northbound" crackdown on drug trafficking.
Still, Calderon will have to battle for Obama's attention as the new president grapples with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst economic crisis in decades.
"Deficits, two wars – Obama is coming in with a full plate," said Riordan Roett, a Johns Hopkins University professor who advised the Obama campaign on Latin American policy.
"The growing violence and security issues for both countries are probably going to give a notch up to the president-elect's meeting with Calderon," Roett added. "My sense is that … there really will be an effort to put this relatively high up on the agenda."