Mi­grants face wait in Mex­ico for U.S. asy­lum

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Joshua Part­low and Nick Miroff

MEX­ICO CITY — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has won the sup­port of the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment here for a plan to re­quire asy­lum- seek­ers to wait in Mex­ico while their claims move through U.S. courts.

That’s the word from Mex­i­can of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Pres­i­dent-elect An­drés Manuel López Obrador’s tran­si­tion team.

The agree­ment would break with long-stand­ing asy­lum rules and place a for­mi­da­ble new bar­rier in the path of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants at­tempt­ing to reach the United States and es­cape poverty and vi­o­lence.

By reach­ing the ac­cord, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion also has over­come Mex­ico’s his­toric ret­i­cence to deepen co­op­er­a­tion with the United States on an is­sue widely seen here as Amer­ica’s prob­lem.

The White House had no im­me­di­ate com­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to out­lines of the plan, known as Re­main in Mex­ico, asy­lum ap­pli­cants will have to stay south of the bor­der while their cases are pro­cessed, po­ten­tially end­ing the sys­tem Trump de­cries as “catch and re­lease” that un­til now gen­er­ally has al­lowed those seek­ing refuge to wait on safer U.S. soil.

“For now, we have agreed to this pol­icy of Re­main in Mex­ico,” said Olga Sánchez Cordero, Mex­ico’s in­com­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter, the top do­mes­tic pol­icy of­fi­cial for López Obrador,

who takes of­fice next Satur­day.

In an in­ter­view with the Washington Post, she called it a “short-term solution.”

“The medium- and longterm solution is that peo­ple don’t mi­grate,” Sánchez Cordero said. “Mex­ico has open arms and ev­ery­thing, but imag­ine, one car­a­van af­ter an­other af­ter an­other, that would also be a prob­lem for us.”

While no for­mal agree­ment has been signed, and U.S. of­fi­cials cau­tion that many de­tails must still be dis­cussed, the in­com­ing Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment is amenable to the con­cept of turn­ing their coun­try into a wait­ing room for Amer­ica’s asy­lum sys­tem.

While they re­main anx­ious the deal could fall apart, U.S. of­fi­cials view this as a po­ten­tial break­through that could de­ter mi­gra­tion and the for­ma­tion of ad­di­tional car­a­vans that orig­i­nate in Cen­tral Amer­ica and cross through Mex­ico to reach the United States.

They have qui­etly en­gaged in sen­si­tive talks with Mex­i­can of­fi­cials, at­tempt­ing to of­fer a diplo­matic coun­ter­bal­ance to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threats and ul­ti­ma­tums.

Alarmed by Trump’s de­ploy­ment of U.S. mil­i­tary forces to Texas, Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona and his threats to close busy bor­der cross­ings, Mex­i­can of­fi­cials were fur­ther de­ter­mined to take ac­tion af­ter mi­grants trav­el­ing as part of a car­a­van forced their way onto Mex­i­can soil last month, push­ing past po­lice block­ades at the bor­der with Gu­atemala.

The prospect of keep­ing thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum-seek­ers for months or years in drug car­tel-dom­i­nated Mex­i­can bor­der states — some of the most vi­o­lent in the coun­try — has trou­bled hu­man- rights ac­tivists and oth­ers who worry such a plan could put mi­grants at risk and un­der­mine their law­ful right to ap­ply for asy­lum.

“We have not seen a spe­cific pro­posal, but any pol­icy that would leave in­di­vid­u­als stranded in Mex­ico would in­evitably put peo­ple in dan­ger,” said Lee Gel­ernt, an ACLU at­tor­ney whose team has won sev­eral le­gal vic­to­ries against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion ini­tia­tives in re­cent months.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion ought to con­cen­trate on pro­vid­ing a fair and law­ful asy­lum process in the U.S. rather than in­vent­ing more and more ways to try to short-cir­cuit it,” Gel­ernt said.

The new mea­sures also could trig­ger le­gal chal­lenges, though Gel­ernt said it was too early to com­ment on po­ten­tial lit­i­ga­tion.

The deal took shape last week in Hous­ton dur­ing a meet­ing be­tween Marcelo Ebrard, Mex­ico’s in­com­ing for­eign min­is­ter, and top U.S. of­fi­cials such as Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen, U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials said.

Nielsen has been fight­ing to keep her job since the midterms, and while Trump has told aides he plans to re­place her, the pres­i­dent praised her last week for “try­ing.”

Dozens of U.S. asy­lum of­fi­cers have been sent to San Diego, Calif., where they will be­gin im­ple­ment­ing the new pro­ce­dures in com­ing days or weeks, Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment of­fi­cials said.

Un­der the new pro­ce­dures, asy­lum-seek­ers ar­riv­ing at the bor­der will be given an ini­tial screen­ing in­ter­view to de­ter­mine whether they face im­mi­nent dan­ger by stay­ing in Mex­ico.

U.S. of­fi­cials de­scrib­ing the new sys­tem on the con­di­tion of anonymity said they will be able to process at least twice as many asy­lum claims as they do now be­cause they wouldn’t be lim­ited by de­ten­tion space con­straints at U.S. ports of en­try.

The San Ysidro port of en­try in the San Diego area cur­rently ac­cepts about 60 to 100 asy­lum claims per day.

Just over the bor­der, nearly 5,000 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans have ar­rived in Tijuana this month as part of car­a­van groups, and sev­eral thou­sand oth­ers are en route to the city, where a base­ball field has been turned into a swelling tent camp.

Tijuana’s mayor de­clared a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri- sis” Fri­day and said the city’s tax­pay­ers would not foot the bill for the mi­grants’ care.

A group of Tijuana busi­ness lead­ers said they have thou­sands of job open­ings at the city’s as­sem­bly plants, or maquilado­ras, invit­ing Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants to work in the fac­to­ries.

Though wages there are a small frac­tion of U.S. pay, Mex­i­can of­fi­cials said the work of­fer was one rea­son they be­lieve the Re­main in Mex­ico plan will suc­ceed.

Across the coun­try, there are 100,000 jobs avail­able to Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum-seek­ers, of­fi­cials said.

“We want them to be in­cluded in so­ci­ety, that they in­te­grate into so­ci­ety, that they ac­cept the of­fer of em­ploy­ment that we are giv­ing them,” Sánchez Cordero said. “That they feel taken care of by Mex­ico in this very vul­ner­a­ble sit­u­a­tion.”

Two se­nior mem­bers of López Obrador’s tran­si­tion team said the new ac­cord would for­mal­ize what al­ready is oc­cur­ring. By ad­mit­ting so few peo­ple into the asy­lum process, the United States al­ready is us­ing Mex­ico as an an­techam­ber

U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sta­tis­tics show about 80 per­cent of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans pass a per­func­tory “cred­i­ble fear” in­ter­view af­ter reach­ing the United States, but fewer than 10 per­cent ul­ti­mately are granted asy­lum by a judge.

The back­log of cases in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion courts has bal­looned past 750,000, giv­ing many asy­lum-seek­ers who don’t qual­ify a chance to re­main in the coun­try for sev­eral years while wait­ing to see a judge.

This gap, home­land se­cu­rity of­fi­cials say, amounts to a “loop­hole” that has in­vited a flood of spu­ri­ous asy­lum claims, giv­ing ap­pli­cants a way to live and work in the United States for years.

The new deal, how­ever, could in­ad­ver­tently in­crease il­le­gal bor­der-cross­ing at­tempts by dis­cour­ag­ing asy­lum-seek­ers from ap­proach­ing of­fi­cial ports of en­try.

On Mon­day, a fed­eral judge in Cal­i­for­nia blocked the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s at­tempt to ren­der in­el­i­gi­ble for asy­lum those who cross il­le­gally, say­ing U.S. laws pro­tect ev­ery­one who reaches U.S. soil.

Last month, the num­ber of peo­ple taken into U.S. cus­tody along the Mex­ico bor­der or who at­tempted to en­ter with­out au­tho­riza­tion topped 60,000, the high­est of Trump’s pres­i­dency.

For months U.S. of­fi­cials sought an ac­cord with Mex- ico that would ob­li­gate asy­lum-seek­ers to wait south of the bor­der or ren­der those who pass through the coun­try in­el­i­gi­ble for hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­tec­tions in the United States.

They’ve viewed such an ac­cord as the key step to stop­ping the sharp in­crease in asy­lum claims, which have quadru­pled since 2014.

One ver­sion of the plan, known as a “Safe Third” agree­ment, was dis­cussed ex­ten­sively with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto.

It would have barred Cen­tral Amer­i­cans from ap­ply­ing for asy­lum in the U.S., on the grounds they no longer face per­se­cu­tion af­ter ar­riv­ing in Mex­ico. But López Obrador’s land­slide July 1 vic­tory sunk those plans, and se­nior mem­bers of his tran­si­tion team say a “Safe Third” is a non-starter.

Mex­i­can of­fi­cials con­sider the Re­main in Mex­ico plan more palat­able. It wouldn’t lock them into a for­mal, long-term agree­ment.

Sev­eral Mex­i­can of­fi­cials pri­vately ac­knowl­edge the coun­try’s bor­der states are not, in fact, safe. U.S. State Depart­ment travel warn­ings also urge Amer­i­can visi­tors to avoid sev­eral Mex­i­can bor­der states.

U.S. of­fi­cials in­volved in the talks said Mex­ico has not asked for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to im­ple­ment the new pro­ce­dures, which could re­sult in sig­nif­i­cant costs if asy­lum-seek­ers are made to wait for months or years.

They de­scribed the deal as a col­lab­o­ra­tion, and of­fi­cials from both gov­ern­ments in­sisted it wasn’t im­posed upon Mex­ico.

Both Amer­i­can and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials said they hoped the ac­cord would pave the way to a broader re­gional co­op­er­a­tion aimed at stim­u­lat­ing job cre­ation in Cen­tral Amer­ica.

“Our en­gage­ment with Mex­ico is, first and fore­most, based on mu­tual re­spect and on a com­mit­ment to work to­gether to find cre­ative so­lu­tions to our shared chal­lenges,” said Kim Breier, a se­nior State Depart­ment of­fi­cial with purview of Mex­ico and Latin Amer­ica who par­tic­i­pated in the talks.

“As neigh­bors and friends, the United States and Mex­ico are com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion to ad­vance the se­cu­rity and eco­nomic well-be­ing of the cit­i­zens of both na­tions based on shared in­ter­ests and re­spect for each coun­try’s sovereignty and the rule of law,” Breier said in a state­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.