MEXICO CITY, July 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump has softened his tone towards Mexico and migrants during his meeting this week with his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, probably in a bid to court Hispanic voters, experts have said.
While welcoming the Mexican president to the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the United States "is home to 36 million incredible Mexican American citizens," adding that they "uplift our communities, and they strengthen our churches and enrich every feature of national life."
Trump's latest remarks contrasted with his earlier message. He once called Mexicans "rapists" who brought crimes to the United States, and has repeatedly criticized Mexican migrants and asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexican border since he took office.
"Trump doesn't do anything that doesn't benefit him politically. He knows that in the upcoming elections, the vote of the Hispanic community is going to be important," said Reynaldo Ortega, a research professor at the International Studies Center of the prestigious El Colegio de Mexico.
The Hispanic vote is largely Democratic, said Ortega, mentioning that Trump has tried to at least retain the percentage of the Latino vote he received in 2016.
The meeting is an opportunity for Trump to send goodwill to Hispanic voters, said Sun Chenghao, a researcher on U.S. affairs with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
That may be especially important as Trump has come under fire for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left the country both socially and economically vulnerable, Ortega noted.
So far, the United States has reported the most COVID-19 cases and deaths, standing at 3,057,431 and 132,360 respectively, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
"There was a change in tone. At least he recognized -- and that is a political point in favor of Lopez Obrador -- that there are 36 million Mexicans who pay taxes, who contribute to the U.S. economy," said Ortega.
The feel-good meeting between Trump and Lopez Obrador was to celebrate the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which took effect on July 1, replacing the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
In a joint declaration, both heads of state said the USMCA signaled the start of a new era because it has strengthened the region's competitiveness and provided economic certainty, a factor they said is fundamental to recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
In the eyes of Zhou Zhiwei, a senior researcher engaged in Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Lopez Obrador's visit reflected that the Mexican government needs the United States to support its fight against the COVID-19 outbreak and boost its economic recovery.
Canada was not represented at the ceremony as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly declined an invitation.
Trudeau said Wednesday that he is concerned about reports that the United States is considering reimposing tariffs on Canadian aluminum and possibly steel.
Mario Ojeda Revah, a research professor at the Latin American and Caribbean Research Center of Mexico's National Autonomous University, said he was completely taken aback by Trump's recent remarks, which he described as a complete about-face and a desperate attempt to woo the Latin voters as polls have shown him lagging behind his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
Standing with Lopez Obrador in the Rose Garden, Trump said the U.S.-Mexican relationship "has never been closer."
"Frankly, it's unheard of coming from him. He has so often denigrated Latinos in general, Mexicans and Central Americans," said the professor.
Many U.S. media described the meeting as an attempt to improve Trump's tumbling public approval among racial minorities due to the nationwide demonstrations against racial discrimination following the death of African American George Floyd in May.
According to the Pew Research Center, around 32 million Hispanics are eligible to vote in November, a figure that represents 13 percent of potential voters, making the Hispanic population the largest racial minority of the electorate, ahead of African-Americans.
Adolfo Laborde, an expert on international relations at Mexico City's Anahuac University, warned that Trump's changed rhetoric does not change the reality for millions of migrants.
"What is the reality? The reality is that there is a wall, the reality is that there are 6 million undocumented migrants that they refuse to document ... Until there is a immigration reform, this is just pure rhetoric, there is no other explanation," said Laborde.
During his presidency, Trump has maintained a hardline stance on immigration and border security, and pushed for a series of controversial measures, including erecting a border wall along the nation's southern border with Mexico, in a bid to deter illegal immigrants. Enditem