Mex­ico pledges mi­grant curbs

FORCES SET FOR GU­ATEMALA BORDER Fu­ture steps to be tied to re­sults; tariffs not off ta­ble

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICK MIROFF, KEVIN SI­EFF AND JOHN WAG­NER

Mex­i­can ne­go­tia­tors per­suaded Pres­i­dent Trump to back down from his tar­iff threat by agree­ing to an un­prece­dented crack­down on Cen­tral American mi­grants and ac­cept­ing more-ex­pan­sive mea­sures in Mex­ico if the ini­tial efforts don’t de­liver quick re­sults, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials from both gov­ern­ments and doc­u­ments re­viewed by The Washington Post.

The en­force­ment mea­sures Mex­ico has promised in­clude the de­ploy­ment of a mil­i­ta­rized na­tional guard at the Gu­atemalan border, thou­sands of ad­di­tional mi­grant ar­rests per week and the ac­cep­tance of bus­loads of asy­lum seek­ers turned away from the U.S. border daily, all geared to­ward cutting the mi­grant flow sharply in com­ing weeks. The mea­sures, de­scribed by of­fi­cials from both sides and included in Mex­i­can ne­go­ti­at­ing doc­u­ments re­viewed by The Post, ap­pear to be more sub­stan­tial than what the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment has at­tempted thus far dur­ing the pre­cip­i­tous rise in mi­gra­tion to the U.S. border.

Since herald­ing the pact in a Fri­day night tweet, Trump has fumed at crit­i­cism that he ca­pit­u­lated to

Mex­ico and that his ac­cord amounts to a se­ries of pre­vi­ously agreed-to mea­sures.

Trump of­fi­cials Mon­day de­scribed the ac­cord as a break­through, and the pres­i­dent con­sid­ered Mex­ico’s plan ag­gres­sive enough to sus­pend his tar­iff threat even though he liked the idea of im­pos­ing the du­ties over howls from mem­bers of his own party.

U.S. of­fi­cials say they were par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with Mex­ico’s pledge to de­ploy up to 6,000 na­tional guard troops to its border re­gion with Gu­atemala. Mex­ico de­scribed its plan to U.S. of­fi­cials as “the first time in re­cent history that Mex­ico has de­cided to take op­er­a­tional control of its south­ern border as a pri­or­ity,” ac­cord­ing to Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments.

Such lan­guage amounted to the kind of rhetor­i­cal shift Trump of­fi­cials were look­ing for from the left­ist gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador, who last year dismissed mi­grant en­force­ment in Mex­ico as “dirty work” at the be­hest of the United States.

Bristling at crit­i­cism of the pact, Trump also said Mon­day that his deal with Mex­ico has “fully signed and doc­u­mented” pro­vi­sions that have not yet been publicly dis­closed, hint­ing at a re­gional plan un­der dis­cus­sion dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions that would give the United States the abil­ity to de­port most Cen­tral American asy­lum seek­ers.

“It will be re­vealed in the not too dis­tant fu­ture,” Trump wrote in early-morn­ing tweets, de­scrib­ing the mea­sures as “an im­por­tant part” of the deal with Mex­ico and “one that the U.S. has been ask­ing about getting for many years.”

On Mon­day af­ter­noon at the White House, Trump said the agree­ment has been locked in and will be an­nounced very soon: “It’s all done. It was all done be­cause of the tariffs and the re­la­tion­ship with Mex­ico. . . . Mex­ico is doing more for the United States right now than Congress. Tremen­dous prob­lem at the border.”

Most asy­lum seek­ers who reach U.S. soil now are pro­cessed and re­leased into the U.S. in­te­rior to await court pro­ceed­ings, some­thing that can take months or years. The pro­posal would make asy­lum seek­ers in­stead ap­ply for protection in the first for­eign coun­try they reach af­ter de­part­ing their home­land, potentiall­y al­low­ing the United States to send Gu­atemalans back to Mex­ico, and Hon­durans and Sal­vado­rans back to Gu­atemala. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials were in Gu­atemala last month dis­cussing such a plan.

Mex­ico has re­peat­edly said that it will not agree to a “Safe Third” ac­cord that would re­quire it to take in U.S.-bound asy­lum seek­ers tran­sit­ing its ter­ri­tory. But Mex­i­can of­fi­cials have been will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate some­thing that would func­tion sim­i­larly, if re­spon­si­bil­ity for asy­lum seek­ers were to be shared among other na­tions in the re­gion.

They say such asy­lum changes would re­quire ap­proval from Mex­i­can law­mak­ers, and Trump said in a tweet Mon­day he would im­pose tariffs if the re­gional asy­lum over­haul doesn’t pass: “If for any rea­son ap­proval is not forth­com­ing, Tariffs will be re­in­stated!” he warned.

Quick deal

The ac­cord of­fers clear po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tages for Trump. By conditioni­ng the tar­iff threat on sharp re­duc­tions in mi­gra­tion flow, the deal has es­sen­tially tasked Mex­ico with de­liv­er­ing re­sults the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been un­able to achieve on its own. And if Mex­ico’s efforts don’t pan out, Trump can blame the López Obrador gov­ern­ment and re­vive his tar­iff threat to elicit a stronger re­sponse.

If unau­tho­rized mi­gra­tion lev­els fall as a re­sult of more Mex­i­can en­force­ment, Trump will be able to take credit, em­bold­en­ing his bullying ap­proach to diplo­macy.

Trump’s frus­tra­tion with Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to his “border wall” has been com­pounded by the record in­flux of Cen­tral American families and chil­dren dur­ing the past year, but the pres­i­dent’s tar­iff ul­ti­ma­tum alarmed Mex­i­can of­fi­cials — more than pre­vi­ous threats to close the border — be­cause it tied vi­tal com­merce and trade to im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

The tac­tic gen­er­ated sig­nif­i­cant lev­er­age, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials from both coun­tries who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to de­scribe last week’s ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter Trump made the tar­iff threat, López Obrador dis­patched a ne­go­ti­at­ing team to Washington led by Mex­i­can For­eign Min­is­ter Marcelo Ebrard, who had to spend sev­eral days wait­ing for Trump and other top White House of­fi­cials to re­turn from over­seas, with pres­sure mount­ing.

The out­lines of the deal be­gan to take shape quickly, af­ter Ebrard and Mex­i­can Am­bas­sador Martha Bárcena met at the coun­try’s em­bassy last Sun­day with act­ing home­land se­cu­rity sec­re­tary Kevin McAleenan to discuss an ex­panded en­force­ment frame­work.

U.S. au­thor­i­ties de­tained more than 144,000 mi­grants along the Mex­ico border last month, the high­est level in 13 years and nearly dou­ble the num­ber taken into cus­tody in Fe­bru­ary. The United States is on pace to make more than a mil­lion ar­rests at the border this year.

On Wednesday, Ebrard and Bárcena met with Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, White House at­tor­ney Pat Cipol­lone and McAleenan to hash out a deal.

Se­nior ad­viser Jared Kushner, who of­ten takes the lead in talks with Mex­ico, was out of the coun­try trav­el­ing with Trump, his fa­ther-in­law. Stephen Miller, the pres­i­dent’s hawk­ish im­mi­gra­tion ad­viser, also was in Europe.

The U.S. ne­go­tia­tors told the Mex­i­can del­e­ga­tion that the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue was the most im­por­tant thing to Trump’s pres­i­dency and that they needed to take mean­ing­ful, con­crete ac­tions with mea­sur­able goals.

Mex­i­can of­fi­cials in March had pledged to ex­pand its se­cu­rity de­ploy­ment along the Gu­atemala border, but the pro­posal for 6,000 troops was far larger than the con­tin­gent to which they had pre­vi­ously com­mit­ted. They also pre­sented a de­tailed plan for more check­points, de­ten­tion cen­ters and ramped-up de­por­ta­tions — all aimed at pre­vent­ing mi­grants from mov­ing north and at de­ter­ring others from try­ing.

The Mex­i­can of­fi­cials said their en­force­ment mea­sures would re­duce U.S. border ar­rest to­tals closer to 50,000 per month by Oc­to­ber, with the goal of re­duc­ing mi­gra­tion to where it was in mid-2017, when de­ten­tions dropped to their low­est level since the early 1970s.

The U.S. side said Trump wanted the num­bers to fall faster and far­ther. Mex­i­can of­fi­cials agreed to more, while also urg­ing the United States to add im­mi­gra­tion judges and process asy­lum claims faster. Mex­i­can of­fi­cials noted that the le­gal and ad­min­is­tra­tive dysfunctio­n of the U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem was not Mex­ico’s re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Of­fi­cials from both coun­tries said the talks were cor­dial and efficient, and the out­lines of a deal were in place by the end of Wednesday. Lengthy meet­ings to fi­nal­ize a joint dec­la­ra­tion con­tin­ued Thursday and Fri­day at the State De­part­ment, in anticipati­on of Trump’s re­turn from Europe.

Un­til the last minute, U.S. ne­go­tia­tors did not know if the pres­i­dent would ac­cept the deal, but his se­nior ad­vis­ers were telling him to take it.

De­ter­rent ‘tip­ping point’

Mex­ico also agreed to a border-wide ex­pan­sion of the Mi­grant Protection Pro­to­col pro­gram, in­for­mally known as “Re­main in Mex­ico,” that re­quires Cen­tral American asy­lum seek­ers to wait out­side the United States while their claims are pro­cessed, plac­ing sig­nif­i­cant strain on Mex­i­can re­sources.

Since MPP be­gan this year, Mex­ico had been re­sist­ing U.S. pres­sure to ex­pand the pro­gram, which so far has sent at least 10,000 asy­lum seek­ers back to Mex­i­can border cities that are among the most dan­ger­ous in the coun­try. In re­cent weeks, U.S. of­fi­cials have been send­ing roughly 250 asy­lum seek­ers per day back to Mex­ico. Un­der the deal reached Fri­day, U.S. of­fi­cials said they expect to in­crease the rate to 1,000 per day.

Those de­por­ta­tions, com­bined with Mex­i­can pledges to in­crease ar­rests of Cen­tral Americans from about 700 per day to as many as 2,000 per day in com­ing months, would potentiall­y stop nearly half of Cen­tral American mi­grants headed north.

Mex­ico also has pledged to in­crease pa­trols and ar­rests along its side of the border with the United States, and Mex­i­can of­fi­cials have asked for lo­ca­tion co­or­di­nates of the busiest cross­ing points used by smug­glers — a “first,” ac­cord­ing to one U.S. of­fi­cial.

“These are things Mex­ico had never agreed to do be­fore,” Pence said Mon­day on Fox News.

Pence added that the United States also had reached a “safe third coun­try” agree­ment with Gu­atemala that os­ten­si­bly would force Hon­durans and Sal­vado­rans to seek asy­lum there in­stead of in the United States. He said the deal would be im­ple­mented only “if it’s nec­es­sary.”

The agree­ment, Pence said, would “es­sen­tially say that if peo­ple are look­ing for asy­lum, that they ought to be will­ing to ap­ply for asy­lum in the first safe coun­try in which they ar­rive.”

U.S. of­fi­cials say that will get them close to a de­ter­rent “tip­ping point” that will cause a larger num­ber of would-be mi­grants to re­con­sider the jour­ney. But they say it will re­quire Mex­ico to fully im­ple­ment the deal and tar­get the smug­gling or­ga­ni­za­tions and the cor­rupt of­fi­cials they part­ner with.

Pom­peo said Mon­day that the United States might still im­pose tariffs on Mex­ico if it doesn’t make progress on stem­ming illegal im­mi­gra­tion, not­ing that the agree­ment is more ex­pan­sive than pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sions with Mex­ico.

“The scale of the ef­fort, the commitment here, is very dif­fer­ent,” Pom­peo said, not­ing that the United States prob­a­bly would be able to judge suc­cess within a month or 45 days. “We will eval­u­ate this lit­er­ally daily.”

Un­til last week, Mex­ico also had re­buffed of­fers of U.S. fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to cope with the mi­gra­tion surge, but American of­fi­cials say that too has changed. To shel­ter, feed and care for an in­creas­ing num­ber of Cen­tral Americans who could wait months in Mex­ico for an asy­lum de­ci­sion, the United States is will­ing to pro­vide “tens of mil­lions” of State De­part­ment dol­lars that have gone un­spent as a re­sult of plung­ing refugee ad­mis­sions, of­fi­cials said.

Mex­ico also is con­sid­er­ing plans to trans­port mi­grants away from border cities to house them in rel­a­tively safer cities that have more gov­ern­ment ser­vices, they said.

MARCO UGARTE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sol­diers watch for mi­grants on pub­lic transporta­tion in Ta­pachula, Mex­ico, on Sun­day, two days af­ter Mex­i­can and U.S. of­fi­cials agreed on new mea­sures to crack down on Cen­tral American mi­gra­tion.

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