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President Obama's first foreign policy move of the new year was a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. They discussed the new U.S. approach to Cuba and the abduction and apparent murder of 43 college students in Mexico. NPR's Mara Liasson reports now that immigration and trade were also on the agenda.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It's hard to exaggerate the extent to which the U.S. and Mexican economies are intertwined. There's half-a-trillion dollars of U.S.-Mexican trade every year. That's a million dollars each minute. Around 10 percent of the U.S. population is of Mexican origin. Today, the Mexican president, speaking through a translator, praised President Obama for two recent steps - reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and the offer of deportation relief to certain immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.
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PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO: (Through interpreter) And among the population that will surely be benefited through your executive actions there's a very big majority of Mexican citizens.
LIASSON: Mexico will play a big role in implementing the president's actions on deportation relief. President Obama acknowledged that the Mexican government is participating in an education campaign to explain who is and isn't eligible.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We very much appreciate Mexico's commitment to work with us to send a very clear message around to the executive actions that I'm taking, that we are going to provide a mechanism so that families are not separated who've been here for a long time.
LIASSON: The president's immigration's actions are a hot-button issue for the new Republican Congress, but they're also vitally important to the Mexican economy, says Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a think tank that focuses on issues including immigration and border security.
SIMON ROSENBERG: The Mexican migrants that are here in the United States can be fully participants in the American society. There's no question that they have a lot at stake. The Mexican diaspora population in the United States is huge. And it's wealthy. And it's a critical part of the Mexican economy.
LIASSON: As the two leaders spoke at the White House, the new Republican Congress was being sworn in on Capitol Hill. Republicans say one of their top priorities is to block the president's immigration actions. Rosenberg thinks that will be difficult.
ROSENBERG: I know that there's a lot of energy today, but Republicans also have a lot of other things they want to get done. And I'm a little skeptical that they're really going to mount the kind of aggressive effort to unravel the reforms that will be necessary to really slow them down or dent them in any significant way.
LIASSON: Outside the White House, about 50 people were protesting Pena Nieto's visit. They were angry about the September abduction and presumed murder of 43 Mexican college students, allegedly at the hands of local police in league with drug cartels. President Obama said he's been following the case and that the U.S. was committed to supporting Mexico in its efforts to eliminate the cartels. But he said ultimately, it's up to Mexico to stop the violence and reform its justice system. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.