Hours after Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president with a vow to seal the U.S.-Mexico border, the man he’s seeking to replace welcomed the Mexican president to the White House.

President Barack Obama last saw his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Pena Nieto, less than a month ago, at a summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. And Pena Nieto, who has compared Trump to dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, visits Washington just as the U.S. presidential contest between the Republican and Democrat Hillary Clinton is gaining steam. Clinton will accept her party’s nomination next week in Philadelphia.

“It’s no coincidence,” said Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer in Latin American affairs at Columbia University, said of Pena Nieto’s visit on Friday. “There are 30 million Americans of Mexican heritage. Mexico has been deeply offended – deeply offended – about the way Trump has spoken about their government.”

Trump’s campaign has revolved around pledges to halt illegal immigration and deport millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country, many of them Mexican. Trump has called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “killers” and he accused a federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against his Trump University business of bias because of the judge’s Mexican heritage.

“We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities,” Trump said Thursday in his acceptance speech.

In an interview with CNN that aired this month, Pena Nieto said there’s “no way” Mexico will pay for a border wall. Trump has suggested his administration would block the U.S. share – by far the largest – of Mexico’s $25 billion in foreign remittances, equal to about 2 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product. The inflows prop up the peso, boost returns for investors in local bonds and fuel spending at companies from retailers such as Wal-Mart de Mexico, cement maker Cemex and bottler Coca-Cola Femsa.


When asked by reporters Thursday about the timing of the visit, White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to elaborate on how the date was selected. “I think all of you have made conclusions about the starkly different approach that President Obama has taken to a wide range of issues than the agenda that’s being put forward by the Republican nominee,” he said.

Despite his criticism of Trump, Pena Nieto has said he expects to be able to work with the next president regardless of who wins the election.

“The reality is that these are two countries that are working together, that have an intense commercial, political and social relationship,” Paulo Carreno, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, said in a July 14 interview in Mexico City. “There’s a big difference between campaign rhetoric and reality.”

Mexicans are invested in the U.S. election outcome at a personal level. About 34 million people in the U.S. – the equivalent of the entire population of Canada – trace their origins to Mexico. Thirty-five percent of Mexican adults say they have friends or relatives in the U.S. who they communicate with on a regular basis, according to a November study by the Pew Research Center.

A June poll by agency GEA-ISA in Mexico found that 56 percent of respondents thought Clinton would be positive for the U.S.-Mexico relationship, while just six percent thought the same of Trump. Only 15 percent saw Clinton as a negative, versus 61 percent for Trump.

While such preferences among people outside the U.S. may not mean much for the election, the State Department estimates one million Americans live in Mexico. That may add up to a lot of absentee ballots.

Officially, Mexico’s government says it respects U.S. sovereignty and has no strategy to influence the result of the presidential race. Yet Mexican officials have worked to counteract Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign, mounting an unprecedented effort to turn the country’s permanent residents in the U.S. into citizens, a status that would enable them to vote. As one example, Mexican diplomats have hosted free workshops on naturalization for U.S. immigrants.

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