No Secret Immigration Deal Exists With U.S., Mexico’s Foreign Minister Says

WASHINGTON — The Mexican foreign minister said Monday that no secret immigration deal existed between his country and the United States, directly contradicting President Trump’s claim on Twitter that a “fully signed and documented” agreement would soon be revealed.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s top diplomat, said at a news conference in Mexico City that there was an understanding that both sides would evaluate the flow of migrants in the coming months. If the number of migrants crossing the United States border is not significantly reduced, he said, both sides have agreed to renew discussions about more aggressive changes to regional asylum rules that could have a bigger effect.

“Let’s have a deadline to see if what we have works, and if not, then we will sit down and look at the measures you propose and those that we propose,” Mr. Ebrard said, describing the understanding reached by negotiators last week.

The public statement served as an official response to several days of tweeting by Mr. Trump, who has reacted angrily to the suggestion that he withdrew his threat of tariffs on all Mexican goods in exchange for a weak deal on immigration.

Mr. Trump has insisted that the agreement reached with Mexico on Friday evening is a strong one, rejecting criticism that it largely called upon the Mexicans to take actions to reduce the flow of immigration that they had already agreed to months earlier.

In a Twitter post on Monday morning, he said, “We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s Legislative body!”

[President Trump’s immigration clampdown has pushed a surge of migrants into the harsh Rio Grande current as the fastest route to American soil.]

American officials said Monday that what Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to was the agreement in principle to revisit the migration situation, and they said it gave the United States strong leverage over Mexico to live up to its promises. The numbers will be reviewed in 45 days and again in 90 days, officials said.

The “U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration” that Mr. Trump announced with fanfare on Friday did include a mention of possible “further action.” It said the two countries agreed to “continue their discussions on the terms of additional understandings to address irregular migrant flows and asylum issues, to be completed and announced within 90 days, if necessary.”

One idea that Washington has proposed for years is a “safe third country” arrangement in which migrants who flee persecution in Central American countries would first have to apply for asylum in Mexico. Those who do not could be turned away if they seek refuge in the United States. Mexico has long opposed the idea.

But there appeared to be a significant disagreement on Monday between the Mexican government and American officials about what the negotiators actually agreed to regarding further action and the possibility of implementing a “safe third country” arrangement.

Administration officials characterized the Mexicans as having all but agreed to asylum changes that would effectively mimic the benefits of “safe third country” as long as it was done regionally, including countries like Guatemala.

Mr. Trump did not specifically mention the idea, but said Monday that “we have an agreement on something they will announce very soon. It’s all done.”

But that was not the understanding described by Mr. Ebrard at his Monday news conference. He told reporters only that Mexican officials would discuss changing asylum rules if the flow of migrants was not substantially reduced in the next several months.

“They will propose safe third country,” Mr. Ebrard said, describing what he expects would be the United States position in any future discussions. “We said it will have to be with the U.N.H.C.R., it will have to be regional,” he said, referring to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Mr. Ebrard said Mexico preferred a regional asylum agreement that would review the flow of migrants across Mexico and Central America, with a number of countries, including Panama and Brazil.

But Mr. Ebrard said any agreement on the asylum changes would have to be negotiated and then approved by the Mexican Senate before it could go into effect. He said the agreement announced Friday effectively delayed that discussion, giving Mexico time to prove to Mr. Trump that it would help reduce the flow of immigration that has so infuriated him since the beginning of his presidency.

Mr. Ebrard also denied that there was an agreement reached on Mexico purchasing additional agricultural goods from the United States, rejecting a claim Mr. Trump made twice on Twitter.

The deal Mr. Trump announced on Friday included two main provisions that he said would slash the number of immigrants flowing into the United States.

One of those was a promise by the Mexicans to deploy their newly constituted national guard to the border with Guatemala. Mexico had agreed to do that in March, but officials said the Mexican government agreed to send more troops more quickly last week.

The other provision in Friday’s agreement was an expansion of a plan to allow the United States to force asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal case proceeds. The declaration said that “this means that those crossing the U.S. southern border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico, where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims.”

A person close to Mr. Trump said Monday that the new agreement was broader than a deal called the Migrant Protection Protocols, which the United States reached with Mexico in December, arguing that the older deal was merely a pilot program at three ports of entry.

But that is not the way Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary at the time, described that deal when she announced it at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Dec. 20.

“Today, I am announcing historic measures to bring the situation under control,” Ms. Nielsen said, telling lawmakers that under the agreement, the United States had the authority to send asylum seekers to Mexico to wait while their cases are processed.

“I cannot overstate the significance of these developments. We are taking lawful, unilateral action to stop illegal entry now,” Ms. Nielsen said at the hearing. “Our two countries have committed to a major regional plan to solve this crisis.”

In a four-page “ACTION” memo to her top deputies on Jan. 25, Ms. Nielsen directed the Border Patrol and other agencies to implement the agreement. She did not describe it as a pilot program and made no mention of any limitations on where asylum seekers could be made to wait in Mexico.

[Read Kirstjen Nielsen’s January memo.]

That same month, Mexican officials said publicly that they had agreed to begin taking some asylum seekers at the Tijuana crossing from the United States, leaving it ambiguous about how quickly the program would expand to other parts of the border.

The program’s speed soon became a source of tension between the two countries, with American officials demanding to move more quickly and the Mexican government arguing that it was not ready for such an acceleration.

A federal judge in the United States briefly made the disagreement moot when he suspended the program after it briefly went into effect. But after an appeals court reversed that order at the beginning of May, the United States began quickly forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico.

There are about 10,000 migrants waiting in Mexico for their asylum cases to be processed. But with 144,000 migrants crossing the southern border illegally or without documentation in May alone, the program has been overwhelmed.

In a brief news conference on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the new agreement with Mexico was more substantial than the one Ms. Nielsen negotiated.

“The scale, the effort, the commitment here is very different from what we were able to achieve back in December,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters. “It’s a fundamentally different commitment about doing this across the entire border at scale.”

Asked about whether there were any other agreements with Mexico that had not been revealed, Mr. Pompeo said: “There were a number of commitments made. I can’t go into them in detail here.”

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