MEXICO CITY (AP) - Since last year’s caravans of Central American migrants began reaching the U.S. border, the Trump administration had been increasing pressure on Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop the flow of migrants. But it was the threat of tariffs on all Mexican imports, which could have had damaging effects for both economies, that led to the June 7 agreement whose results will be reviewed Thursday.
These are the agreement’s key points and an explanation of how immigration policy has changed in the past 90 days:
WHAT DID THEY AGREE TO?
Mexico promised to reinforce its controls to contain migrants who enter and cross the country irregularly. It also committed to accepting and giving basic services to asylum applicants sent back to Mexico through the so-called “Remain in Mexico” program to await the process taking place in the U.S.
The only concrete promise Washington made, beside millions of dollars in aid to Central America, was to speed up the processing of asylum applications.
DID THEY LIVE UP TO THEIR COMMITMENTS?
Mexico has deployed 21,600 soldiers and National Guard forces to try to control its borders and migrant routes. It increased checkpoints across the country and established a coordination center in the northern city of Monterrey, according to the administration’s first State of the Union address this month. It has also moved thousands of asylum seekers from its northern border to the south, presumably for their safety.
The United States is erecting tents along the border where it will hold videoconference hearings on asylum requests to speed up the process.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS, WHAT HAS CHANGED?
In the middle of the tariff threat, López Obrador replaced the leader of the country’s immigration agency, Tonatiuh Guillén, a sociologist and academic, with Francisco Garduño, the country’s chief of prisons. He also put Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard effectively in charge of immigration policy. The government also says it is cracking down on migrant smuggling rings.
Human rights organizations have reported harassment of migrants who are accumulating at Mexico’s northern and southern borders, increasingly desperate because of a lack of information. They have also denounced excessive use of force by police and soldiers who, in theory, can’t do immigration enforcement.
The United States has dramatically increased the number of asylum seekers it is returning to wait in Mexico, especially along the eastern part of the border between Texas and the highly dangerous Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The “Remain in Mexico” program is being employed in this area without any opposition from Mexico, though international organizations have expressed concerns about the accumulation of migrants, safety issues and lack of information and services for the migrants.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stepped down in April and Trump made it even more difficult for migrants from countries other than Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump also sent U.S. officials to Central America to pressure for agreements that would make it more difficult for migrants to cross their territory. But so far only Guatemala has signed on and has so far not enacted the policy yet.
ARE THE COUNTRIES SATISFIED WITH WHAT THEY’VE ACHIEVED?
Trump has made positive comments about the efforts of Mexico, whose government has also expressed satisfaction. Ebrard has bragged that the migrant flow has dropped even without a so-called “safe third country” agreement that would require those crossing through Mexico to seek asylum there first. Critics say that Mexico effectively has adopted that policy without a formal agreement.
In the U.S., civil society organizations have challenged most of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration measures in the courts. In Mexico, similar organizations have denounced the hardline measures taken by López Obrador. However, in some parts of Mexican society, there is a growing backlash toward migrants and some were pleased that the administration avoided economic pain with this shift in policy.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN NOW?
Ebrard plans to travel to the United States on Tuesday to evaluate the agreement. If both countries are satisfied it’s likely that everything will continue the same even though the growing numbers of migrants waiting in Mexico could become explosive.
If Washington doesn’t think the accomplishments have been sufficient, it could activate the “complementary agreement” also from June 7 that would formally make Mexico a safe third country. In that case, Mexico would prefer that Central American nations come to similar agreements so each would carry the responsibility of having asylum seekers wait there, thus sharing the burden.
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