Door remains open to U.S. asylum plan
Mexico’s incoming leaders receptive to having migrants wait there
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 concept 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“We 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.
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.