Mexico has featured prominently in the 2016 presidential election, often as a catalyst for hostility and anti-trade sentiment among GOP voters. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump launched his unlikely candidacy on the central promise of building a wall (financed by Mexico) between the United States and its southern neighbor. The real estate mogul turned presidential candidate has repeatedly and falsely accused Mexico of sending criminals, rapists and drug dealers into the U.S. Trump’s rocky relationship with Mexico reached its nadir in late August after a surprise meeting with current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto resulted in protests and a Twitter feud over who would pay for the wall.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has taken a decidedly cautious and subdued approach when it comes to Mexico. A proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, Clinton and her campaign have repeatedly criticized Trump’s controversial rhetoric directed toward Mexico and Mexican immigrants, while maintaining her focus on U.S. voters. As a result, while many Mexicans are clear on Trump’s position toward their country, they’re not as sure where Clinton stands.
In an exclusive Q&A for HuffPost Mexico, the Democratic presidential nominee took some time to answer questions over email, touching on issues related to Mexican-U.S. diplomacy, Latin America and the role Latino and Hispanic youth will play in the upcoming election.
What is your personal and professional relationship with Mexico and Latin America?
I have visited Mexico many times since 1972 for vacation and work. In fact, Bill and I spent part of our honeymoon in Acapulco in 1975! And during my official visits to Latin America as First Lady, I developed strong personal relationships with leaders in the region. As Secretary of State, I visited Mexico five times and made dozens of trips to countries in Latin America. Through these relationships, we were able to start the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas and create regional strategies to fight international drug cartels and gang violence.
There’s enormous potential in our relationship with Mexico if we get it right. Not only do we share a 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, but our economies and cultures are highly integrated. And decades of immigration have strengthened our familial ties. I’ve seen firsthand how local, state and federal officials from each country work together every day to manage our border security and ensure the safety of American and Mexican citizens from natural disasters, public health threats and crime.
Not only do we share a 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, but our economies and cultures are highly integrated. And decades of immigration have strengthened our familial ties."
Of course, we still have a lot of work to do to address the challenges we face, including poverty, ongoing violence, human rights abuses, corruption and migration. As president, I’ll work closely with our partners in Mexico and Latin America, leading the region toward solutions — through relationships founded on mutual respect.
Do you have any Mexican Americans on your senior staff? Can you tell us what experience or insight they bring to the 2016 U.S. presidential election?
I’m proud to say that Hillary for America mirrors the diversity of our country. Over 50 percent of our staff is female and approximately one-third are people of color ― figures that roughly match national statistics. I think this is a great indication of what the federal workforce would look like under a Clinton-Kaine administration. Mexican Americans play an important role at every level of this campaign. My treasurer is Jose Villarreal; Amanda Renteria is our national political director; Carlos Sanchez, our deputy political director. They all bring a depth of experience to the campaign from working in the private sector and on Capitol Hill. Jorge Silva, our director of Hispanic media, and Cristóbal Alex, our deputy national director of voter outreach, are both hard at work to make sure we engage with voters leading all the way up to Election Day. And those are just a few of the many Mexican Americans involved in this campaign. I’m so lucky to have them working alongside me.
How do you envision the next 10 years with your Latin American allies and neighbors, in terms of trade and security?
Too often, we look east and we look west, but we don’t look south. No region in the world is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than Latin America. And no region in the world is better positioned to emerge as a new force for global peace and progress. Strong ties between the United States and our partners in the Americas are one of our great competitive advantages in the 21st century.
No region in the world is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than Latin America. And no region in the world is better positioned to emerge as a new force for global peace and progress."
We have more in common with Latin America than just our proximity. We share common values, interests and heritage. Our economies, our communities and even our families are intertwined. So instead of building a wall, we should be building a new era of partnership and prosperity.
To get there, we have to set common goals and work toward them together. We need to help our partners and allies in Latin America address ongoing challenges like poverty, violence, human rights abuses, corruption and migration. And we should start by working with our Latin American communities here in the United States, to help strengthen our partnerships throughout the region.
What kind of help do you expect from Mexican partners to create lasting immigration reform?
America is a nation of immigrants, and we should treat those who come to our country with dignity and respect. That’s why we can’t wait any longer for comprehensive immigration reform. In my first 100 days as president, I’ll put a bill before Congress that includes a pathway to citizenship, fixes the family visa backlog, and strengthens our economy.
Comprehensive reform will bring millions of workers into the formal economy to pay taxes and compete on a level playing field. And it will add $800 billion to our GDP, creating new jobs and more growth. It will also help secure our border in a more humane, targeted way that will benefit both of our nations ― like ending the flow of weapons to Mexico, and ensuring refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. have a fair chance to tell their stories.
We also need to do everything possible under the law to keep families together. So as we fight for reform, we must also defend and expand DACA and DAPA. What happens next door matters to us ― for both our security and our prosperity.
We should remember how much we stand to benefit from Mexico’s success, and how much Mexico stands to benefit from ours at meeting these shared challenges. A strong Mexico will mean safer American communities, a stronger American economy, and given the connections between our people, a more vibrant society. To make that a reality, Mexico’s leaders need to take steps to support economic reform, strengthen the rule of law, and restore its citizens’ feeling of security and trust in government. Continuing to work together on these challenges will be key to ensuring that North America remains the most dynamic, secure and prosperous region in the world.
What was your biggest lesson from the 2008 U.S. presidential election?
The 2008 campaign was a tough race, but I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned. One major takeaway was remembering to take criticism seriously, but not personally.
I’ve faced a lot of criticism in my life and throughout my career. And even in the face of losing, I had to remember why I got in the race in the first place. I had to remember the people I was fighting for ― and it’s those same people I’m fighting for in my campaign today.
Everything I learned from 2008 has made me a better candidate this time around. And that’s a good thing, because the stakes in this presidential campaign are higher than ever before. My team and I have improved our strategy, and we’re focused on earning every single one of your votes. And most importantly, we’re still guided by the ideals that have been central to my entire career: that every child in our country should be able to live up to his or her God-given potential.
How does your campaign plan to win the Latino youth vote?
I’m not taking anything or anyone for granted in this election, and I know I’m going to have to work hard to earn every single person’s vote. Latino youth are a growing and vibrant part of our democracy. As one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, Latinos will play an even greater role in determining the direction of our country in the coming years.
That’s why my campaign has ramped up our efforts to engage, energize and mobilize millennial Latino voters. I want every young Latino to know that I’m committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform, creating a debt-free future for college graduates, tackling climate change and strengthening our investments in good-paying jobs.
In the weeks ahead, I am going to continue my commitment to meet young Latinos where they are, hearing from them about the challenges they face and the priorities they value.
Is there a Latino or Hispanic American who stands out to you ― a hero, or someone whose life work you admire in particular?
The contributions of Latino and Hispanic Americans to our nation are countless and inimitable. Two of my heroes that come to mind are Cesar and Helen Chavez. They spent their entire lives fighting for farmworkers to receive the fair wages and benefits they deserve. And it’s really their determination and tirelessness in the face of countless obstacles that’s inspired me, and that’s helped countless workers also stand up for their right to be treated with respect and dignity.
I’m proud to have the support of Dolores Huerta, Cesar and Helen’s partner in their movement, and another indefatigable advocate of worker and immigrant rights.
I also have enormous respect and admiration for DREAMers like Astrid Silva and Juan Salazar who I’ve met along the campaign trail. One of my first campaign events was a roundtable with DREAMers. These young people no longer wanted to live in fear or secrecy. Instead, they stepped into the public as undocumented.
That’s not just brave – it’s a real testament to their belief in the American dream. People like Astrid and Juan remind me that we can’t ever stop fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.
You had a special moment with the daughter of two undocumented immigrants who was afraid that her parents would be deported. You took her into your arms and assured her you’d do everything in your power to help. Do you have a message for other families in the same situation?
Meeting Karla was a powerful moment, and her words have stayed with me throughout this campaign. When she told me she was scared her parents would be deported, I told her to let me do the worrying instead. After all, Karla should be worried about finishing her homework and making friends in her new class, not about her parents being taken from her.
Too many children in America go to school in the morning worrying their parents won’t be there when they come home. Instead of breaking up hard-working, law-abiding immigrant families who have enriched the United States for years, I’ll work to keep families together and ensure a more humane immigration enforcement system focused on violent and dangerous people.
We would not be the country we are today without the generations of immigrants who have made their lives here. The United States was built by immigrants, and our economy depends on immigrants. Our future will always be written in part by immigrants ― and I don’t want anyone to forget that.
Too many children in America go to school in the morning worrying their parents won’t be there when they come home."
Do you have plans to appoint Mexican Americans to your cabinet?
I firmly believe that all Americans, including Mexican-Americans, must be represented at the highest levels of our government. Communities of color have too often been shut out of careers in public service. That’s not right ― and it’s not smart either.
There are nearly 35 million Americans with Mexican heritage in the United States, and their views and needs should be represented at the federal level. That’s why I’ll work to appoint Mexican-Americans to key positions in federal agencies, and form a government that looks like the people it represents.
For years, I’ve worked to make sure Americans of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds have their voices heard. As Secretary of State, I made it a top priority for the State Department to reflect the diversity of the American people ― just as my campaign staff does now. And as president, I’ll bring this same commitment to diversity to my administration.
This interview first appeared on HuffPost Mexico, where it can be read in Spanish. It has been updated and edited for clarity.