Mexico angrily confronts Trump’s envoys on immigration and trade
Mexico on Thursday expressed “worry and irritation” about US policies to two of President Donald Trump’s top envoys, giving a chilly reply to the new administration’s hard line on immigration, trade and security.
The US government this week angered Mexico by saying it was seeking to deport many illegal immigrants to Mexico if they entered the United States from there, regardless of their nationality.
It is the latest point of friction between neighbours that have also been at odds over Trump’s vow to build a wall on the border and his attempts to browbeat Mexico into giving concessions on trade.
“There exists among Mexicans worry and irritation about what are perceived to be policies that could be harmful for the national interest and for Mexicans here and abroad,” Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told a news conference.
He was speaking after talks in the Mexican capital with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security chief John Kelly, who later met with President Enrique Pena Nieto. The Mexican leader scrapped a summit meeting with Trump in January as tensions rose.
Both sides on Thursday pledged further dialogue on migration, trade and security issues.
— President Trump (@POTUS) February 23, 2017
Kelly and Tillerson were more measured in their words than either the Mexicans or Trump, who on Thursday said a military operation was being carried out to clear “bad dudes” such as gang members and drug lords from the United States.
But Kelly said there would be “no use of military force in immigration operations,” and “no, repeat, no” mass deportations.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on the eve of the meetings that the US relationship with Mexico was “phenomenal” and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made conciliatory comments on Thursday about trade.
Asked about Videgaray’s rejection of Trump’s bid to deport non-Mexican illegal migrants to Mexico, Spicer said he expected Tillerson and Kelly will “talk through the implementation of the executive order.”
The stakes are high for the United States, since Mexico has warned that a breakdown in relations could affect its extensive cooperation on the fight against narcotics and on stemming the flow of Central American migrants that reach the US border.
Looking stern as he stood beside the US visitors, Videgaray said it is “a complex time” for US-Mexican relations, which have gone downhill quickly since Trump’s election last November.
Videgaray and Pena Nieto have been criticised at home for being too willing to engage with Trump, who has repeatedly cranked up tension with the country ahead of key meetings.
Opposition politicians and a handful of protesters demanded that Pena Nieto should snub the visitors, and even Economy Minister Idelfonso Guajardo had said the meeting with the president on Thursday might not happen, depending on the tone of the talks in the morning.
Mexico relies heavily on exports to its neighbour.
As part of its response, Videgaray said Mexico’s foreign ministry would get involved in legal cases in the United States where it considered the rights of Mexicans had been violated.
“The Mexican government will take all the measures legally possible to defend the human rights of Mexicans abroad, especially in the United States,” Videgaray said.
The two countries need to strengthen intelligence sharing, as well as take more action to stem the flow of weapons and drug money from the United States and to shut down criminal organisations, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said.
“Mexico needs the United States, and the United States also needs Mexico, our countries will always be neighbours so the best thing would be to have agreements that work for both equally,” Osorio Chong said.
In a concession to Mexican concerns, both Kelly and Tillerson acknowledged the need to stop arms and drug proceeds moving south, and praised Mexico’s extensive programmes to turn back Central American immigrants travelling north.
“There is no mistaking that the rule of law matters along both sides of our border,” Tillerson said.
None of the officials made direct references to the deportation of immigrants from third countries to Mexico, or to paying for the border wall planned by Trump, a red-flag issue for Mexico.
Slapping tariffs on US goods would be a “plan B” for Mexico if renegotiations over a new mutually-beneficial trade deal fail, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Thursday morning ahead of the talks.
Guajardo said he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.
However, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said on Thursday he did not see any changes to NAFTA in the short-term.
But hopes for a thawing in relations are low, after a series of botched meetings last month deepened tensions between the historic allies.
“The relationship... is at such a historic low that it would be wishful thinking to assume that new concrete agenda items to advance will come at this point,” Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America Economic Growth Initiative said.
Pena Nieto abruptly cancelled a planned January summit with Trump after the real estate mogul suggested the Mexican leader should not come if he refused to pay for a border wall.
And Trump signed his first executive orders to punish sanctuary cities and build the wall, which could cost around US$21.6 billion, the first time Videgaray travelled to Washington to negotiate with counterparts last month.
Trump has also threatened to rip up the trade deal between the United States and Mexico if he cannot renegotiate it to favour American interests.
Trump’s administration also plans to hire 15,000 more immigration and border agents, while subjecting immigrants who cannot show they have been in the country for more than two years to “expedited removal.”