Mexico scrambled Thursday to slow the flow of Central American migrants to the United States as talks continued in Washington to head off President Donald Trump’s threat of potentially catastrophic tariffs on Mexican goods.
Mexico City was deploying 6,000 National Guard troops to its southern border with Guatemala, blocked hundreds of migrants in a new caravan and froze the bank accounts of suspected human traffickers in hopes of appeasing Washington’s demands.
But in the US capital, negotiators holding a second day of talks were still trying to find agreement on issues including asylum application procedures and financial aid to the Central American countries that are the source of most of the migrants.
“We have been working this afternoon, we still do not have an agreement,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said as talks wrapped for the day. “Tomorrow we have another session in the morning and we will continue forward.”
With migrant apprehensions at the border with Mexico soaring to 144,000 in May, the highest number in 13 years, the Trump administration has threatened to hit all imports from Mexico with a five percent tariff starting Monday, a move that could savage the export-dependent Mexican economy.
Trump made the threat last week, saying that the tariffs would rise by five percentage points each month to a high of 25 percent if the southern US neighbor fails to halt the northward flow of migrants.
In an interview that aired late Thursday with Fox News from France where he is attending D-Day commemorations, Trump defended his tariff plan as “a beautiful thing” and complained about “this onslaught, this invasion” of undocumented migrants.
“That’s really an invasion without guns,” Trump told interviewer Laura Ingraham.
The president hesitated when Ingraham pointed out that Mexico was an important US trade ally.
“How do you define ally?” he asked, then talked about violence and drugs coming into the United States from Mexico.
“They shouldn’t be allowing people to come through their country from Central (America), from Honduras and Guatemala, (and) El Salvador,” he said.
Trump was unconcerned that pushback in Congress over the tariffs could sink his new North America trade deal, the USMCA, which needs legislative approval. “I’m not worried about it because they need us, we don’t need them,” he said.
– No deal yet –
Ebrard declined to comment on whether the talks at the State Department revisited the so-called “safe third-country” option proposed by the United States, which aims at having Central American migrants fleeing chronic poverty and violence apply for asylum from Mexico rather than in the United States.
Earlier in the week Ebrard rejected the idea, but the White House declared it one of its principal demands.
The Washington Post reported that a potential deal to avoid the tariffs would allow the United States to deport asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala, which they pass through to get to Mexico and then the United States.
Ebrard’s spokesman Robert Velasco Alvarez said Thursday that there was no deal as the two sides were far apart, but that talks continue.
“The US position is focused on migrant control measures, ours is on development,” he said, referring to Mexico’s support of a broader effort to support the economies of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
At Mexico’s southern border Thursday, there were visible efforts to slow the migrants and hinder their supporters.
In the southern state of Chiapas, AFP journalists reported an increased police and military presence on roads typically used by migrants heading north. Ebrard confirmed that 6,000 National Guardsmen would be deployed to the border.
Mexico City froze the bank accounts of 26 suspected human traffickers allegedly responsible for organizing US-bound migrant caravans.
Two activists from People Without Borders (Pueblo Sin Fronteras), which has helped organize migrant caravans, were arrested on allegations of offering migrants money to enter Mexico illegally.
Mexican authorities also blocked 420 migrants in a new caravan, although the group was initially about 1,200-strong, with many suspected of running away before immigration officials stepped in.
– Asylum not the problem –
Meanwhile Carla Provost, the head of the US Border Patrol, downplayed the issue of asylum, saying migrants simply understand that, due to US laws, if they arrive with children, they will likely be released into the United States.
She noted that since October, 230,000 children without legal travel documents have crossed the border into the United States, most with families but also tens of thousands unaccompanied by adults.
“The issue is they don’t even have to claim asylum, they know that,” Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told CNN.
“They are telling us they are told by smugglers, they are hearing announcements in their own country, that if they come right now and bring a child, they will be released,” she said.
“That is a true statement, because we cannot hold them longer than 20 days if they have a child.”
Michael Moore predicts Mick Mulvaney will get into Heaven after confessing Trump’s quid pro quo
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore predicted acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney will ascend to Heaven in the afterlife during a Friday interview on MSNBC's "The Beat" with Ari Melber.
The host played a clip of Mulvaney admitting Trump's quid pro quo while seeking foreign election assistance from Ukraine.
"This man obviously is going to be admitted into Heaven," Moore said. "You know, he told the truth."
"If there was a movie version of this, somebody stuck him with a needle just before he walked out onto the stage there, a truth serum needle, and he just went on and on saying, 'Yeah, that’s what we do. Yeah, of course.' Essentially admitting there is a quid pro quo. In fact, there are many quid pro quos."
Trump campaign has 12-person ‘War Room’ toiling to fight the impeachment inquiry: report
While the White House has bragged about refusing to start a "war room" to deal with the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's administration, his campaign is footing the bill for a 12-person operation, the LA Times reported Friday.
“Some of you have criticized us for not having a war room — OK? — which we don’t by the way,” acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters.
“You don’t have a war room when you haven’t done anything wrong," he added.
By that logic, Trump's 2020 re-election campaign may fear the president did something wrong.
‘I don’t think he knows what he’s doing’: Ex-Trump advisor rips the ‘cascading crisis’ of his ‘strategic disaster’
President Donald Trump received harsh criticism from a former top Middle East advisor for the ethnic cleansing campaign Turkey is waging against the Kurds in Syria.
MSNBC's Chuck Todd interviewed Brett McGurk, the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.
"The truth of the matter is when President Trump announced to the world last December that we were leaving Syria and he arbitrarily cut our force reportedly in half, which is already a small force, we lost all of our leverage and influence," McGurk argued. "And he really threw it out the window on this call on October 6th."