Door re­mains open to U.S. asy­lum plan

Mex­ico’s in­com­ing lead­ers re­cep­tive to hav­ing mi­grants wait there

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joshua Part­low and Nick Miroff

MEX­ICO CITY — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pears to have won the sup­port of Mex­ico’s in­com­ing gov­ern­ment for a plan to re­make U.S. bor­der pol­icy by re­quir­ing asy­lum seek­ers to wait in Mex­ico while their claims move through U.S. courts, ac­cord­ing to Mex­i­can of­fi­cials and se­nior mem­bers of Pres­i­den­t­elect An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s tran­si­tion team.

How­ever, one of those same of­fi­cials was later quoted as deny­ing re­ports of any deal, adding to con­fu­sion about an agree­ment that would break with long-stand­ing asy­lum rules and place a for­mi­da­ble bar­rier in the path of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants at­tempt­ing to reach the United States and es­cape poverty and vi­o­lence.

“Pres­i­dent (Don­ald) Trump has de­vel­oped a strong re­la­tion­ship with the in­com­ing Lopez Obrador Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and we look for­ward to work­ing with them on a wide range of is­sues,” White House spokesman Ho­gan Gi­d­ley said in a state­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to out­lines of the plan, known as Re­main in Mex­ico, asy­lum

ap­pli­cants at the bor­der will have to stay in Mex­ico while their cases are pro­cessed, po­ten­tially end­ing the sys­tem, which Trump de­cries as “catch and re­lease,” that has gen­er­ally 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 Sanchez, Mex­ico’s in­com­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter, the top do­mes­tic pol­icy of­fi­cial for Lopez Obrador, who takes of­fice Dec. 1. She called it a “short­term so­lu­tion.”

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

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.

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

While they re­main anx­ious that 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. U.S. of­fi­cials have en­gaged in sen­si­tive talks with se­nior Mex­i­can of­fi­cials, at­tempt­ing to of­fer a diplo­matic coun­ter­bal­ance to Trump’s threats and ul­ti­ma­tums.

Alarmed by Trump’s de­ploy­ment of U.S. mil­i­tary forces to Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Texas, Mex­i­can of­fi­cials were fur­ther de­ter- mined 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.

Mean­while, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that Mex­ico’s in­com­ing gov­ern­ment de­nied a re­port Satur­day in The Wash­ing­ton Post that it plans to al­low asy­lum-seek­ers to wait in the coun­try while their claims move through U.S. im­mi­gra­tion courts.

“There is no agree­ment of any sort between the in­com­ing Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment and the U.S. gov­ern­ment,” Sanchez said Satur­day.

She did not ex­plain why the Post had quoted her as say­ing there had been agree­ment.

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 that 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 vic­to­ries against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion ini­tia­tives in re­cent months.

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

The Post re­ported 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, ac­cord­ing to U.S. and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials.

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

Dozens of U.S. asy­lum of­fi­cers have been sent to San Diego, where they will be­gin im­ple­ment­ing the pro­ce­dures in com­ing days or weeks, ac­cord­ing to De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials. Un­der the 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 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 would not be lim­ited by de­ten­tion space con­straints at U.S. ports of en­try. The San Ysidro port of en­try in the San Diego area 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. The city’s mayor de­clared a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis” Fri­day and said the city’s tax­pay­ers would not foot the bill for the mi­grants’ care.


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

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