The Washington Post

Mexico pledges migrant curbs

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

- 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.
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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