The United States and Mexico appeared for a few hours Saturday to be on the brink of solving the crisis on their shared border — until an apparent last-minute retreat by the incoming Mexican government.
Mexico’s president-elect had agreed to a Trump-administration plan that would make Central American asylum-seekers stay on the Mexican side of the border while waiting to be legally admitted to the US, the president had said Saturday.
“All will stay in Mexico,” President Trump tweeted of the plan, designed to stanch the flow of migrant caravans and relieve some of the United States’ most pressing immigration problems,
“If for any reason it becomes necessary, we will CLOSE our Southern Border,” Trump’s tweet said. “There is no way that the United States will, after decades of abuse, put up with this costly and dangerous situation anymore!”
The plan had been negotiated last week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other US officials during a meeting in Houston with reps of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, according to The Washington Post.
But by Saturday night, Mexico’s incoming government was denying that any such plan had been finalized.
“There is no agreement of any sort between the incoming Mexican government and the US government,” future Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero said in a statement.
The statement, obtained by the Associated Press, said the incoming government’s primary concern was the well-being of migrants while in Mexico.
Sanchez said the government did not intend for Mexico to become a “safe third country.”
The denial came hours after the Washington Post had quoted Sanchez saying that the plan had been agreed to as a “short-term solution.”
The program was meant to end the “catch and release” system denounced by Trump that allows migrants seeking refuge to live in the United States for years as they wait for an immigration judge to rule on their applications.
The number of asylum applications has exploded since 2014 as more migrants learn to exploit the rule, which the Trump administration sees as a loophole encouraging illegal border crossings and straining the US immigration system.
Many applicants, especially those with flimsy asylum claims, never appear for their court dates. And fewer than 10 percent of those who pass an initial interview are granted asylum.
Previous Mexican leaders have resisted US calls to halt Central American migrants traveling north and have regarded illegal immigration across the two nations’ border as a US problem.
Any willingness on López Obrador’s part to house the migrants would be surprising, since he campaigned as a progressive populist and has criticized Trump.
Nearly 5,000 Hondurans and Guatemalans who have been traveling in caravans for more than a month are camping at sports fields in the Mexican border city of Tijuana as they wait for interviews with US immigration officials.
Tijuana residents have mounted protests and the city’s mayor has called for emergency help from the United Nations.
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