Re­ports dif­fer on asy­lum deal

Mex­ico’s next lead­ers were said to be open to mi­grants wait­ing there and not in U.S.

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Ce­cilia Sanchez and Patrick J. McDon­nell

MEX­ICO CITY — Mex­ico’s in­com­ing po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship is deny­ing a pub­lished re­port that it has agreed to a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­posal re­quir­ing asy­lum-seek­ers ar­riv­ing at the south­west bor­der to wait in Mex­ico as U.S. au­thor­i­ties con­sider their claims for safe haven.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported Satur­day that Wash­ing­ton had won the sup­port of the govern­ment of Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent-elect An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador — who takes of­fice on Dec. 1 — for a plan man­dat­ing that asy­lum-seek­ers at the bor­der re­main in Mex­ico as their claims move through the U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has long sought such an ac­cord with Mex­ico as a means of re­solv­ing what it has termed a “cri­sis” of es­ca­lat­ing num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum ap­pli­cants — and lim­ited de­ten­tion space in which to hold them on U.S. ter­ri­tory as their pe­ti­tions are con­sid­ered.

Crit­ics on both sides of the bor­der have long as­sailed the no­tion of Mex­ico serv­ing as a way sta­tion or de­ten­tion grounds for Cen­tral Amer­i­cans and oth­ers ap­ply­ing for asy­lum in the United States.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of Mex­ico’s cur­rent pres­i­dent, En­rique Pena Ni­eto, re­jected a sim­i­lar Trump pro­posal last year.

But The Post quoted Olga Sanchez Cordero, Mex­ico’s in­te­rior min­is­ter-des­ig­nate, as say­ing Mex­ico’s new govern­ment had ac­cepted the pol­icy as a “short-term so­lu­tion” to the is­sue of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­gra­tion — which has been dra­ma­tized in re­cent weeks as thou­sands of U.S.-bound Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants have made their way north through Mex­ico in car­a­vans.

Later Satur­day, how­ever, af­ter the Post pub­lished its re­port, the in­com­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter de­nied that Mex­ico had agreed to host U.S. asy­lum-seek­ers as their cases awaited judg­ment.

“There is no agree­ment of any sort be­tween the fu­ture Mex­i­can fed­eral govern­ment and the U.S. (govern­ment),” Sanchez Cordero said in a state­ment.

More­over, the in­te­rior min­is­ter-des­ig­nate said Mex­ico’s new govern­ment had re­jected any deal in which Mex­ico would be con­sid­ered “a safe third coun­try” for U.S. asy­lum ap­pli­cants.

The White House has also pushed the al­ter­na­tive, “safe third coun­try” ap­proach in talks with Mex­i­can of­fi­cials. Un­der the safe third coun­try plan, Cen­tral Amer­i­cans seek­ing asy­lum would gen­er­ally have to file for pro­tec­tion in Mex­ico, not in the United States.

Trump took to Twit­ter on Satur­day to seem­ingly sup­port the plan. “Mi­grants at the South­ern Bor­der will not be al­lowed into the United States un­til their claims are in­di­vid­u­ally ap­proved in court. We only will al­low those who come into our Coun­try legally,” he tweeted.

He added, “No “Re­leas­ing” into the U.S. All will stay in Mex­ico. If for any rea­son it be­comes nec­es­sary, we will CLOSE our South­ern Bor­der.”

The “safe third coun­try” pro­posal is a vari­ant of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s so­called “Re­main in Mex­ico” plan, un­der which asy­lum seek­ers would wait in Mex­ico un­til their cases were ad­ju­di­cated in the U.S.

With a safe third coun­try des­ig­na­tion, the United States would con­sider Mex­ico a se­cure na­tion for re­ceive asy­lum ap­pli­cants. In prac­tice, that would bar most asy­lum seek­ers who en­tered Mex­ico from fil­ing asy­lum claims in the United States. The United States al­ready has such a safe­coun­try un­der­stand­ing with Canada.

But im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates have long op­posed a “safe third coun­try” des­ig­na­tion for Mex­ico for a num­ber of rea­sons — prin­ci­pal among them its wide­spread and ris­ing vi­o­lence, which of­ten tar­gets Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants. Mex­ico can’t be con­sid­ered “safe” for asy­lum seek­ers, many ar­gue.

Crit­ics also say that Mex­ico’s sys­tem for pro­cess­ing refugee re­quests is al­ready over­whelmed and ill-pre­pared to han­dle a huge new in­flux.

In her state­ment, Mex­ico’s in­com­ing in­te­rior sec­re­tary echoed vows of leftist Pres­i­dent-elect Lopez Obrador to pro­tect the “hu­man rights” of car­a­van trav­el­ers and other Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants, while pro­vid­ing them with food, health care and shel­ter. The pres­i­dent-elect has also vowed to help Cen­tral Amer­i­cans ac­quire work papers if they opted to re­main in Mex­ico.

More than 6,000 car­a­van mem­bers, mostly Hon­durans, have ar­rived this month to the Mex­i­can bor­der cities of Ti­juana and Mex­i­cali, pos­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian, lo­gis­ti­cal and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge for the two cities on the Mex­ico-Cal­i­for­nia bor­der. The mi­grants say they are flee­ing poverty and vi­o­lence in their home­lands. Ti­juana’s mayor de­clared a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis” on Fri­day as the bor­der city sought fed­eral and state aid to house the mi­grants.

Sanchez is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

GUILLERMO ARIAS/GETTY-AFP

Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants wait at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der in Ti­juana. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is ac­tively seek­ing a so­lu­tion to the bor­der cri­sis.

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