The Mexico Deal: What really matters
June 18, 2019
Listening to Trump explain one of his achievements reminds me a lot of listening to my son read the lyrics to the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.” Something about the meter and the fact that what is being said makes no sense. And so, no surprise, that the “deal” with Mexico was not so much a deal, in reality, but more of an agreement to talk about a future agreement, at a later date, maybe in 45 days. Sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. I’m crying. Goo, goo, goo, g’joob. See how that works…
From the text of the letter representatives from the U.S. and Mexico actually signed:
The United States and Mexico will immediately begin discussions to establish definitive terms for a binding bilateral agreement to further address burden sharing and the assignment of responsibility for processing refugee status claims of migrants.
The art of the deal indeed…
However, even if the much touted “deal” is not much of a deal, Trump still got concessions from Mexico through threatening tariffs that will prove disastrous for migrants. This is the media magic of Trump. Somehow the things that really matter get lost in the analysis of Trump’s veracity and the indignity that ensues when he takes credit for an achievement not nearly as “huge” as he claims.
So, what matters:
Mexico really did commit to send more guardsmen to its border with Guatemala - 6,000 in total. That Mexico was already engaged in its own crack down on migration at the border - one that expanded greatly in 2014 in response to refugees from Central America - has been lost in this discussion. Which is to say, the massive deployment envisioned will be a human rights nightmare if current practices are any measure.
Speaking of human rights, the Mexican government arrested and detained two human rights activists, Cristóbal Sánchez and Irineo Mujica, in the midst of the bilateral discussion who had been vocal in criticizing the treatment of Central American migrants. Both were released after a campaign from the Alliance for Global Justice and others to press for their release. The arrests were clearly seen as an effort to intimidate activists speaking out in defense of migrants - and a step taken under pressure from the Trump administration.
The head of Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, Tonatiuh Guillén resigned on Friday, to be replaced by the head of Mexico’s national prison system. Much as Trump has been cleaning house at the Department of Homeland Security to bring in hard-liners, Mexico seems to be doing the same.
Of the items discussed in the joint declaration last week, and the supporting document released by the government of Mexico (to make clear there was no “secret deal” as Trump claimed), the most controversial part is Mexico being designated as a “safe third country.” Such a designation would require that refugees crossing into Mexico would have to first apply for asylum there, even if their intent was to come to the United States. This would require action by Mexico’s legislature, and it is not clear this will be accepted.
For now, Trump is still enforcing the “remain in Mexico” practice of requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico until their asylum cases can be heard by immigration authorities on the U.S. side of the border. The process is moving very slowly, leaving thousands of people waiting for a chance to file their claim formally in the United States. Following the announced agreement, Trump extended the practice to cover the entire U.S./Mexico border. This led to 10,000 Central American refugees being returned to Mexico by U.S. authorities to await asylum hearings. Part of the joint declaration, the only real commitment the United States made, is a promise to speed up the asylum process.
So, yes Trump exaggerated the extent of his deal with Mexico. But let’s be clear, he got what he wanted, at least thus far. Mexico is upscaling its crackdown on immigration under pressure from the United States. This will be a disaster for refugees seeking passage through Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. That human rights disaster should be much bigger news than Trump inflating his accomplishment.