U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he “respectfully reinforced” the U.S. position on border security in each of his meetings with Mexican leaders during a visit to Mexico City to meet with the country’s president and president-elect.
Pompeo said after the talks that the U.S “is committed to making measurable progress that ensures security on both sides of the border.” One of U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign promises was to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Trump promised, at the time, to make Mexico pay for the wall.
Pompeo said he and the rest of the U.S. delegation, which included presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, also discussed trade with the Mexican officials. Pompeo said it is important that the U.S. and Mexico have a “strong, fair, and reciprocal trading relationship” that will require an “updated” North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso said outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to work with his successor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to present a “unified front” for Mexico as it transitions from one administration to the next on Dec. 1.
The foreign minister said the Mexican officials expressed concern over the recent U.S. policy of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the U.S. border. They asked the U.S. delegates to give “their best efforts” to reunited children with their families as soon as possible.
The Trump administration’s effort to mend frayed relations and re-set bilateral ties between two neighboring countries took place just days after the leftist Lopez Obrador won a landslide election to a six-year team. Also attending the talks were Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray Caso, and the Lopez Obrador’s proposed foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard Causabon.
Causabon is expected to lead Lopez Obrador’s transition team from now until the Dec. 1 presidential inauguration.
The high-profile meetings came amid strained relations between the two neighboring countries over illegal migration, border security, and trade negotiations.
To curb the influx of migrants — mostly from Central America — the two countries are said to be discussing a proposed “safe third country” agreement that could significantly reduce the flow of asylum seekers who journey through Mexico and cross illegally into the U.S.
A “safe third country” deal between Mexico and the U.S. would require asylum seekers from Central America to apply for protection in Mexico rather than at the U.S. border.
‘Important, complex’ issues
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Carl Risch is also among those in the U.S. delegation.
When asked if Washington would consider providing Mexico financial aid as an incentive and to help the country settle new asylum seekers, the senior State Department official told VOA “migration issues are an incredibly important and complex issue” that the Trump administration is addressing. He referred to the Department of Homeland Security that is taking the lead on such discussions.
In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said migrant flows are a shared responsibility among nations in Latin America, and Washington is working with regional governments to “find options for these individuals to remain within or closer to their countries of origin.”
Critics warned such an agreement could put migrants fleeing violence in further danger.
Due process a priority
American Immigration Council Policy Director Royce Murray told VOA Friday any such deal must ensure that Mexico can process “a high volume of asylum seekers …without compromising due process.”
“More importantly, we would need to assess whether Mexico can provide meaningful protections to asylum seekers,” Murray added. “While there are many issues on the table between the U.S. and Mexico, refugees cannot become a mere chit whose safety and security can be negotiated away.”
“The notion that Mexico is in any way safe for Central American asylum-seekers is preposterous,” Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the advocacy group Legal Aid Justice Center told VOA on Thursday.
“I have had countless Central American clients, mostly women, tell me that the treatment they received in Mexico — whether by the cartels, or the government, or both — was nearly as bad as the violence they were fleeing in their home countries,” he added.
Mexico officials had said the best way to tackle issues related to illegal migration and border security is to “spur development in Mexico.”
‘Better places to live’
Wednesday, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary on western hemisphere affairs, Kenneth Merten, told U.S. lawmakers that Washington is working with Mexico in tackling pressing issues through aid programs.
“Our assistance programs in the region seek to support rule of law and governance, and to make these countries better places to live, better places to do business, and thus ultimately reduce migration,” Merten said during a hearing Wednesday at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Pompeo will also discuss “continued U.S.-Mexico cooperation with the Nieto administration throughout the transition” and work closely with Obrador to continue strengthening the U.S.-Mexico relationship after the new administration takes office on Dec. 1, said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.