Mexico City, July 10 : US President Donald Trump's softened stance towards Mexico during his meeting this week with his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was probably aimed at courting Hispanic voters, experts have said.
While welcoming the Mexican president to the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the US "is home to 36 million incredible Mexican American citizens", adding that they "uplift our communities, and strengthen our churches and enrich every feature of national life", reports Xinhua news agency.
Trump's latest remarks contrasted with his earlier message. He once called Mexicans "rapists" who brought crimes to the US, and has repeatedly criticized Mexican migrants and asylum seekers at the countries' 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, adding that Trump has tried to at least retain the percentage of the Latino vote he received in 2016.
"There was a change in tone. At least he recognized -- and that is a political point in favour of Lopez Obrador -- that there are 36 million Mexicans who pay taxes, who contribute to the US economy," said Ortega.
The meeting between Trump and Lopez Obrador was to celebrate the US-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.
Canada was not represented at the ceremony as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly declined an invitation.
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.
"Frankly, it's unheard of coming from him. He has so often denigrated Latinos in general, Mexicans and Central Americans," he said.
According to the Pew Research Center, around 32 million Hispanics are eligible to vote in November, a figure that represents 13 per cent 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 altered 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.