WASHINGTON – The United States demanded on Tuesday that Mexico step up its efforts to reduce the flow of undocumented migrants arriving at the border, but the Mexican government countered that the decrease in migratory transit was now irreversible and said it believed that Washington remained far from resuming its threat of imposing new tariffs on its southern neighbor.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard met at the White House with a delegation led by US Vice President Mike Pence and then spoke with President Donald Trump to discuss progress on the immigration agreement reached in June, following which Washington withdrew its tariff threats.
“The Mexican strategy has brought very important results for migratory flows to be in accordance with the law. A significant decline has been noted,” Ebrard said in a press conference after the meeting.
“The trend is irreversible, it’s something we believe is going to be permanent,” he added.
The immigration agreement reached in June established a 90-day review period – which concluded this month – for both parties to evaluate the deal’s effectiveness, while Washington reserved the right to reactivate its tariff threat if it was not satisfied after that period.
However, Ebrard assured that the issue of tariffs hadn’t been discussed in the latest meeting and said that, although the possibility of renewed tariffs depended “on the will of the US executive,” it was still far away.
“The risk of a confrontation between Mexico and the United States is moving further and further away,” he stressed.
The US side was less clear, though it also struck a positive tone: in a tweet, Pence described the meeting as “productive” and thanked Mexico for its efforts, but insisted that both Mexico and the US Congress still had “more work to do as we secure our border once and for all to keep America safe!”
Pence underlined, in particular, the need to work closely with the government of Mexico to advance the implementation of the Migrant Protection Protocols, adding that both governments had agreed to implement that measure “to the fullest extent possible.”
The MPP policy, better known as ‘Remain in Mexico,’ allows Washington to return asylum-seekers arriving on its southern border to the neighboring country so that they can wait there for their cases to be resolved in the US.
That initiative began this year at three border entry points, and in June, Mexico agreed to expand implementation of the program throughout the border area.
Under the program, the US has already returned more than 42,000 immigrants to Mexico this year, but the mechanism has generated criticism for the difficulties faced by US attorneys when defending clients who are outside the country and for the dangers that undocumented migrants waiting in restive Mexican states like Tamaulipas might face.
The US has not clarified how it wants this program to further expand, while Ebrard also made no comments on this point.
The conversation between Trump and the Mexican minister lasted about 10 minutes, according to Ebrard, and came at the end of the meeting with Pence. The chat was also attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
“(Trump) was, I would say, quite kind, positive and grateful to Mexico, that’s what he told me,” Ebrard said.
During the meeting, Trump asked McAleenan about the possibility of turning Mexico into a “safe third country,” something that would allow the US to reject asylum-seekers if they fail to first seek refuge on Mexican soil.
McAleenan supported the idea, but Ebrard made it clear that Mexico does not consider that measure as a viable option since his government lacked the authorization from the Senate needed to implement it.
Before the meeting, the Mexican foreign minister said on Twitter that the priority for Mexico would be to freeze the illicit arms trafficking from the United States to his country.
After the meeting, Ebrard explained that in June he had already agreed with Washington to the creation of a bilateral working group dedicated to this issue, which will begin its mission next week with the presence of the US ambassador to the neighboring country, Christopher Landau.
“The objective is to know how many weapons per month we register that come illegally from the United States, make a trace to see who sold them. That work, as far as I know, hasn’t been done before,” the minister said.
About 70 percent of the weapons involved in crimes in Mexico and recovered by authorities between 2011 and 2016 came from the US, according to official data.