Donald Trump arrived in Mexico last night on a surprise visit to meet the president of a nation he derided at the start of his White House campaign as a source of rapists and criminals coming to the US.
The trip, a politically risky move ten weeks before polling day, puts Mr Trump in a country where he is widely despised alongside a foreign leader who has compared him to Adolf Hitler.
The visit follows an invitation from president Enrique Pena Nieto, but protests are expected. Both a former Mexican president and first lady told the billionaire New Yorker that, despite Pena Nieto’s hospitality, he is not welcome. “We don’t like him. We don’t want him. We reject his visit,” former Mexican president Vicente Fox said, calling the trip a “political stunt”. Former first lady Margarita Zavala added on Twitter: “We Mexicans have dignity, and we reject your hate speech.”
After saying during his Republican primary campaign he would use a “deportation force” to expel all of the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally, Mr Trump suggested last week he could soften that stance.
But he still says he plans to build a huge wall – paid for by Mexico – along the nations’ border. He is under pressure to clarify just where he stands in a highly anticipated speech in Arizona about illegal immigration after his trip to Mexico.
Mr Trump’s running mate Governor Mike Pence said: “The American people are going to see more clearly that there’s one candidate in this race who’s prepared to take the steps necessary to end the flood of illegal immigration.”
Mr Pence said Mr Trump will also make clear “that there will be no path to legalisation, no path to citizenship. People will need to leave the country to be able to obtain legal status or obtain citizenship”.
The build-up to the speech was abruptly interrupted by the news that Mr Trump would make the visit, accepting on short notice an invitation offered last week by Mr Pena Nieto. The newspaper El Universal wrote in an editorial that Mr Trump “caught Mexican diplomats off guard”.
More than 100 members of the Mexican press were gathered at Mr Pena Nieto’s residence, where Mr Trump and the Mexican president were scheduled to make a joint appearance after a private meeting.
Democrat Hillary Clinton attacked Mr Trump’s Mexican visit as she promoted her own experience working with foreign leaders as the nation’s chief diplomat.
She said: “People have to get to know that they can count on you, that you won’t say one thing one day and something totally different the next. And it certainly takes more than trying to make up for a year of insults and insinuations by dropping in on our neighbours for a few hours and then flying home again.”
Even before the Mexican trip was announced, former adviser Barry Bennett said Mr Trump faced political risk should he appear to be reversing himself on an issue as sensitive as immigration.
“After you’ve said all these things, you can’t say, ‘I didn’t mean it’,” Mr Bennett said. “You run a bigger risk of losing supporters you have than possible gains on this issue.”
Mr Trump has promised, if elected, to deport millions of immigrants who are in the US illegally and force Mexico to build a wall to secure the nearly 2,000-mile border.
Mr Trump responded to Mr Fox’s criticism on Twitter, saying the former president had, like Mr Nieto, invited him to come. Mr Fox shot back with a tweet of his own, saying he had invited Trump to “come and apologise to all Mexicans. Stop lying! Mexico is not yours to play with, show some respect.”