Why did Mexico invite Donald Trump for a visit?

President Enrique Peña Nieto has invited both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to meet in Mexico. In a surprise move, Mr. Trump has accepted the offer, hours before he will give an immigration policy speech in Arizona. 

Evan Vucci/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump steps off his plane after arriving for a campaign rally at Crown Arena in Fayetteville, N.C. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2016. Trump will fly to Mexico Wednesday on invitation of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Mexico, meet Donald Trump.

The Republican presidential candidate is taking up Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto on an offer extended to both US presidential candidates by making a quick visit to Mexico on Wednesday, just hours before he is expected to a deliver major immigration speech in Arizona.

"I have accepted the invitation of President Enrique Pena Nieto, of Mexico, and look very much forward to meeting him...," said Mr. Trump in a Twitter post on Tuesday night.

Trump's ascent to the nomination owes much to his antagonism of the United States' southern neighbor: launching his campaign with remarks that belittled immigrants from Mexico, and claiming that they have contributed to international humiliation for the US.

"They're not sending us their best," he said in his June 2015 speech announcing that he was seeking the Republican presidential bid. "They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we're getting."

"When do we beat Mexico at the border?" he continued. "They're laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they're beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me, but they're killing us economically."

In March, Mr. Peña Nieto criticized Trump's "strident" tone, likening his brand of populism to that of fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. He later told CNN that there was "no way" that Mexico would ever pay for the construction of a border wall, as Trump has insisted it should.

On Tuesday, Peña Nieto seemed to preempt criticisms over the invitation, writing on Twitter that he believed in dialogue "to promote the interests of Mexico in the world and, principally, to protect Mexicans wherever they are." The purpose of the visit, he wrote, was to discuss bilateral relations – a preferred topic for a president who has made attracting foreign investment a priority.

His comments in March aside, the Mexican president has been characteristically circumspect in his remarks about the US elections, describing them as a matter to be decided internally.

"I have never made any remark or rating about any of the candidates today in the democratic competition of the United States," he said in July, according to local media. "Any point or statement that I have made has been taken out of context.... I have always expressed absolute respect for the process."

In April, The Christian Science Monitor noted that despite the vast expense and formidable array of practical obstacles involved in building walls along the border, politicians in the US continue to use the idea to soothe anxieties over immigration:

The value of the wall, some experts say, is much more as a political idea than an actual structure. The border wall remains a powerful symbol for people on both sides of the immigration debate – either as a sign of security taken seriously or of fear and misunderstanding run amok.

“It’s something that has gained a lot of political value, the idea that you can wall the United states off from the rest of the rest of the world, particularly in this case, Mexico,” says Rachel St. John, author of “Line in the Sand: A History of the U.S.-Mexico Border.”

Trump's visit comes as he appears to retreat from his earlier insistence that he would marshal a "deportation force" to expel all of the country’s roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants. In recent meetings with Hispanic supporters, the candidate suggested that he might be open to letting some of those people stay – though his staff has appeared to contradict that in subsequent interviews. 

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a close Trump adviser who visited Peña Nieto in Mexico City in 2014, was among those pushing the Republican candidate to take the trip, a source close to the campaign told the Associated Press.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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