The damage is done. Irrespective of whether Donald Trump imposes his proposed tariffs on Mexican goods, he has already gravely undermined the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico.

Donald Trump has begun his 2020 reelection bid in much the same way he began his successful 2016 campaign: by attacking Mexico and Mexicans to galvanise his base. He has insouciantly slapped Mexico, a central economic partner and strategic ally, with the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, a law ordinarily reserved for enemies of the United States.

Many of us ask ourselves: how did we get to a point in which the government of our neighbouring country erects a border wall to separate our two nations and effectively expel Mexico from North America? Why is it that, if we have a free trade agreement in place with the United States, its president unilaterally imposes tariffs on Mexican goods?

Trump is not the United States. Members of his cabinet, party leaders, Republican lawmakers and governors, as well as the Chamber of Commerce and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives all oppose his latest wave of protectionist policies. However, the President of the United States is free to insult and lambaste Mexico and Mexicans without reprisal. Why should American communities of Mexican descent be responsible for defending the government of the country they felt forced to leave due to lack of opportunities? Mexico’s political and economic elites have aligned themselves with their American equivalents, only to find that a white supremacist will never consider them his equals.

Negotiating over trade agreements is not the same as negotiating over human beings. It happens that, unfortunately, we speak about Central American migrants as if they were transactional pawns. In the same way that Mexico finds itself without support in the United States, so too do Central American migrants find themselves without support in Mexico.

President López Obrador has called for unity and friendship with the American government and its people. An ethical and morally sturdy narrative is the sole antidote to Trump’s narrow-minded and intolerant rhetoric. As Michelle Obama asserted in her memorable August 2016 speech, “when they go low, we go high.”

To assert our dignity means to resist humiliation, and, by extension, to refrain from humiliating those for whom we are responsible. We must not waste the opportunity to assert our dignity. If we yield and sacrifice the future of migrants in favour of a pragmatic and temporary solution to Trump’s tariffs, we would make ourselves even more susceptible to future threats from the bully to the north. As Trump himself has assured, “I’ll raise the tariffs if the flow of drugs from Mexico to the US doesn’t stop.”

Immigration controls and a military presence in our Southern border and in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec may address our problems in the short run. But to do so would fundamentally compromise our self-respect. It is imperative that we grant the necessary financial support to Mexican institutions to establish a human rights-driven immigration policy. This does not mean open borders nor freedom of movement, but a fundamental congruence with the dignity of Mexico.

First published in El Universal on June 7, 2019. Translated by Tomas Medina.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author.