Mexico has named a new ambassador to the United States, planning to send a more seasoned envoy to Washington in an apparent effort to try to combat the vitriol heaped on the country by the leading U.S. Republican presidential candidates.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto promoted his current consul in Los Angeles, Carlos Sada, to the Washington posting in what his government said was a shift in strategy to better promote Mexican interests in the U.S. capital.
Sada, whose nomination is subject to a confirmation vote by the Mexican Senate, has worked in three other U.S. cities as well, including a stint as a liaison to the U.S. Congress. He would replace Miguel Basanez, an academic who has only been in Washington for eight months and has a background in opinion polling.
The phenomenon of illegal immigrants crossing the southern U.S. border from Mexico has played a key role in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
The front-running Republican candidate, billionaire real estate mogul Donald Trump, branded the Mexican immigrants as drug smugglers and rapists as he announced his candidacy last June. He is calling for Mexico to pay for construction of an impenetrable wall along the 1,600-kilometer border to block further migrants from streaming into the U.S.
Trump's chief challenger, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, says his first immigration priority is to secure the U.S.-Mexican border, complete a partially built barrier between the two countries and triple the number of U.S. agents patrolling the border.
This week, Trump said he would try to force Mexico to pay for his proposed $8 billion wall by threatening to cut off the billions of dollars Mexican workers living in the U.S. annually send back to relatives and friends in their homeland.
Trump said he would end the threat when Mexico sends the U.S. $5 billion to $10 billion for the wall, something Nieto says he has no intention of paying for.
Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu did not mention the U.S. candidates in discussing the switch in diplomats. But she said the move was prompted by "the anti-Mexico atmosphere, which is largely due to lack of knowledge about our country. We had to implement a strategy focused on protecting our community but also on projecting Mexico's image."
She added, "We have been warning that our citizens have begun to feel a more hostile climate. This [anti-Mexican] rhetoric has made it clear that we have to act in a different way so that this tendency being generated doesn't damage the bilateral relationship" with the United States, Mexico's biggest trading partner.
About 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, about half of them Mexicans, and millions more Mexicans live in the U.S. legally or have become U.S. citizens.
U.S. government officials say currently there is no net flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S., with as many entering illegally as there are returning to Mexico and Central American countries to the south.