Deal with Mex­ico paves way for asy­lum over­haul

Star-Telegram (Sunday) - - News - BY JOSHUA PARTLOW AND NICK MIROFF Wash­ing­ton Post

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has 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 Pres­i­dent-elect An­drés Manuel López Obrador’s tran­si­tion team.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump briefly de­scribed the ar­range­ment in a pair of tweets Satur­day evening. “Mi­grants at the South­ern Bor­der will not be al­lowed into the United States un­til their claims are in­di­vid­u­ally ap­proved in court,” Trump wrote. “No ‘Re­leas­ing’ into the U.S. … All will stay in Mex­ico.”

The pres­i­dent then is­sued a threat. “If for any rea­son it be­comes nec­es­sary, we will CLOSE our South­ern Bor­der. There is no way that the United States will, af­ter decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion any­more!” Trump wrote.

Ear­lier in the day, White House spokesman Ho­gan Gi­d­ley said in a state­ment that “Pres­i­dent 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.”

The agree­ment would break with long-stand­ing asy­lum rules and place a for­mi­da­ble bar­rier in the path of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants try­ing to reach the United States and es­cape poverty and vi­o­lence. By reach­ing the ac­cord, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has also over­come Mex­ico’s his­toric ret­i­cence to deepen co­op­er­a­tion with the United States on an is­sue widely seen here as Amer­ica’s prob­lem.

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 Sánchez Cordero, Mex­ico’s in­com­ing in­te­rior min­is­ter, the top do­mes­tic pol­icy of­fi­cial for López Obrador, who takes of­fice Dec. 1. In an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post, she called it a “short-term so­lu­tion.”

“The medium- and long-term 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.”

On Satur­day, af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of the Post story and crit­i­cism of the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment for ac­ced­ing to pres­sure from Trump, Sánchez Cordero and other mem­bers of the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment de­nied that an agree­ment had been reached and said talks with the United States were on­go­ing.

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

Alarmed by Trump’s de­ploy­ment of U.S. mil­i­tary forces to Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Texas, 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 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 le­gal vic­to­ries against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion ini­tia­tives in re­cent months.

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