US, Mexico pave way for asylum overhaul
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 Presidentelect 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 be- comes 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 Mex-
ico, 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.
Seven-year-old Honduran migrant Genesis Belen Mejia Flores waves an American flag at U.S. border control helicopters flying overhead in Tijuana, Mexico, on Saturday. The mayor of Tijuana has declared a humanitarian crisis in his city, where about 5,000 migrants are encamped near the U.S. border.