Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said his country is worried about recent actions that could greatly expand US deportations of undocumented immigrants, including sending non-Mexicans to Mexico.
“I want to make it clear, in the most emphatic way, that the Mexican government and the people of Mexico do not have to accept measures unilaterally imposed on a government by another government,” Videgaray said.
He spoke just hours before Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly arrive in Mexico for meetings on security, immigration, trade and the border with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and other officials.
President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies have cranked up the tension in US-Mexico relations to a high not seen in decades. He’s blamed the country for sending rapists into the US, castigated undocumented immigrants from across the border and blasted Mexico for what he says are unfair trade practices. One of Trump’s first actions as president was to order the construction of a border wall that he insists Mexico will pay for, despite the country’s repeated refusals.
On Tuesday, the Trump administration issued guidance on deportations that could apply to every undocumented immigrant in the US and enable state and local law enforcement to act as immigration officers.
Another change to asylum procedures would make it easier for immigration officers to send non-Mexican migrants to Mexico if they came through the country on their way to the US. The change could potentially send tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence, gangs and drug cartels back into Mexico, an issue Kelly and Tillerson will almost certainly have to address.
A Mexican official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters, said that when Kelly and Tillerson arrive in Mexico City, Pena Nieto, Videgaray and other officials will make clear that Mexico will not take deportees who are not Mexican nationals.
Speaking in Guatemala Wednesday ahead of his visit to Mexico, Kelly said the President has authorized DHS to “protect and gain control” of US borders and “emphasized the mission of intercepting irregular immigrants from many countries on our borders, treat them humanely and return them to their countries of origin as fast as possible.”
He also said that Trump has authorized more resources — detention facilities, border patrol agents and construction of a physical barrier “where it makes sense.”
The issue of illegal immigration was a major campaign theme for Trump, who framed it as an economic and security challenge threatening the US. One of his first acts as president was to sign two executive orders for construction of a US-Mexico border wall and increasing the number of border patrol officers and immigration enforcement officers who carry out deportations.
During the campaign, Trump went to Mexico City to meet Peña Nieto and said he discussed the wall but not who would pay for it — a claim the Mexican president disputed. Peña Nieto took to Twitter after the meeting to say that “I made it clear that Mexico will not pay for the wall.”
Still, the meeting was a political debacle for the Mexican leader, and the nationalist backlash against Trump is bolstering the political fortunes of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who Schecter noted now leads national polls on the 2018 election.
Trump has also railed against Mexico and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he has described in tweets as “a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers … of jobs and companies lost” that has created a trade deficit. He has repeatedly said he wants to renegotiate the deal, which many experts agree wouldn’t be a bad thing, given that it was originally written at a time when intellectual property, the Internet and e-commerce weren’t major economic drivers.
Schecter pointed out that the economies of the three NAFTA countries — the US, Canada and Mexico — are so intertwined that cross-border production chains “mean 40 cents’ worth and 25 cents’ worth of every dollar we import from Mexico and Canada, respectively, is US content.”
“President Trump is right, NAFTA should be updated,” said Schecter. “But not in an atmosphere of recrimination.”