US President Donald Trump brandished a document on Tuesday confirming details of a regional asylum project agreed with Mexico to stave off threatened tariffs, saying the plan was “secret” even though Mexican officials had revealed much of it.
Trump, who has made containing immigration in the United States a priority issue and has blamed Mexico for the problem since running for office in 2016, did not show the text of any document or give any details.
However, a Reuters photograph of the sheet of paper allowed reporters to read parts of it.
Under duress because of Trump’s threat to impose tariffs unless Mexico stemmed a surge in migrants that has overwhelmed US detention facilities and immigration courts.
Mexico signed a pact last week agreeing to control the flow of people from Central America, including deploying 6,000 members of a new national guard along its border with Guatemala.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said his country also agreed to a 45-day timeline to show increased enforcement efforts were effective in reducing the people flows.
If that fails, Mexico has agreed to consider a longstanding US demand that Central American asylum seekers crossing through Mexico apply for refuge there, not the US, making Mexico a “safe third country,” a demand that Mexico has long rejected.
“Safe third country could be applied if we fail, and we accept what they say,” Ebrard said on Tuesday evening, noting that Mexican legislators would then give consideration to accommodating a change in migration law.
Nevertheless, Ebrard said other Latin American countries should share the burden, something that the US has appeared to have agreed to.
The document that Trump waved at reporters laid out “a regional approach to burden-sharing in relation to the processing of refugee status claims to migrants”; talked of “45 days”; and said Mexico had committed to immediately examine its laws and rules to enable it to implement such an agreement.
Asylum is at the core of Trump’s concerns about a surge in undocumented migration because a large proportion of the people apprehended at the US-Mexican border say they are fleeing violence and repression.
Since many travel with children – who cannot be held in detention long-term – they are released into the US to await the resolution of their asylum cases, something the president calls “catch and release.”
Many migrants say they are afraid of returning to their home countries, which triggers a US immigration court process that can take months or years to resolve due to backlogs in the system. In January, the Trump administration began sending thousands of migrants back to Mexico to wait there instead.
The Mexican foreign minister said those asylum seekers would start being returned to wait out their cases in Mexico via three more cities, which officials will decide on Friday.
Deployment of the national guard on Mexico’s border with Guatemala would begin on Wednesday, he added.
The vast majority of undocumented migrants arriving in the US are from Central America, but significant numbers have also been arriving in recent months from Cuba and Haiti, via Panama, and from African countries, often via Brazil.