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Trump’s Threat of Tarrifs on Mexico Prompts Outcry

The United States would begin imposing an escalating tax on imports from Mexico

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Trump's, Threat, Tarrifs, Mexico
FILE - A Central American migrant is detained by Mexican immigration agents on the highway to Pijijiapan, Mexico, April 22, 2019. VOA

Mexico’s foreign minister says he has starting negotiating with U.S. officials after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican products related to the migrant surge at the border.

Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter Friday that he had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone and said face-to-face talks between the two would take place Wednesday in Washington.

“The summit to resolve the U.S. dispute with our country will be on Wednesday in Washington,” Ebrard said. “We will be firm and defend the dignity of Mexico.”

Earlier Friday, Mexico’s president responded to the U.S. tariff threats with caution urging “dialogue” over “coercive measures.”

Trump's, Threat, Tarrifs, Mexico
FILE – Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, May 31, 2019. VOA

“I want to reiterate that we are not going to fall into any provocation; but we are going to be prudent, and we are going to respect the authorities of the United States and President Donald Trump,” said Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

His statement Friday morning followed a two-page letter to Trump made public late Thursday, similar in tone, responding to Trump’s announcement on Twitter earlier in the day that the United States would begin imposing an escalating tax on imports from Mexico.

“On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP,” Trump tweeted. Until “the illegal immigration problem is remedied” tariffs will continue to rise monthly, going as high as 25% by October 1.

U.S. border agents have apprehended an increasing number of people, largely from Central America, who crossed the southern U.S. border without authorization in recent months.

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In contrast to previous spikes in arrivals, recent groups have included a large number of children, prompting U.S. officials to scramble to support families and children traveling without parents, some of whom are seeking asylum.

In an indication of the pressing demands at the border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection solicited bids for the purchase of tens of thousands of baby diapers, wipes and bottles this past week, according to documents reviewed by VOA on a government contracting website.

Mexico has the “absolute ability and authority to do a lot more than they’re doing,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Friday.

Reaction from Mexico

Lopez Obrador posted a letter to Twitter after Trump’s announcement that said, “Social problems are not resolved with taxes or coercive measures.”

Trump's, Threat, Tarrifs, Mexico
FILE – A group of Central American migrants surrenders to U.S. Border Patrol Agents south of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in El Paso, Texas, March 6, 2019. VOA

Trump’s announcement of the new tariffs came on the same day Mexico began the formal process of ratifying the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (US MCA) on trade.

Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jesus Seade, says such tariffs would be disastrous, expressing more alarm than the Mexican president.

“If this threat is carried out, it would be extremely serious,” he told reporters. “If this is put in place, we must respond vigorously.”

For one trade expert, who previously served as Mexico’s ambassador to China, a top trading partner for that country and the U.S., the timing of Trump’s tariff statement raises questions about the future of the US MCA.

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“By mixing two things — immigration and now just lately drug flow with trade — I think it confuses the issue,” said Jorge Guajardo, a senior director at the Washington-based international trade consulting firm McLarty Associates.

The trade deal “was a triumph for all three countries, and now of course, that all comes into doubt,” Guajardo added.

Marking progress

Some Republican members of Congress but no Democrats were consulted about White House plan, according to acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Asked in a hastily arranged conference call with reporters about benchmarks Mexico would need to achieve to have the tariffs lifted, Mulvaney said there needs to be significant and substantial reductions in arrivals from Central America crossing into the United States.

“We’re going to take this and look at it on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis,” Mulvaney said. “We are interested in seeing the Mexican government act tonight, tomorrow.”

Trump has repeatedly accused Mexico of not doing enough to stop Central American migrants from traveling through the country on their way to the United States.

The U.S. system, however, is not infallible. While the country has increased its apprehension rate at the border in recent years, U.S. border agents stop an estimated 65% to 80% of people crossing into the country without authorization, according to a 2018 DHS report. (VOA)

Next Story

Mexico-US Tariff Deal: Questions, Concerns for Migration

Washington and Mexico City both took victory laps Saturday over a deal

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People enter the U.S. at the Otay Mesa port of entry at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, Calif., June 8, 2019. - U.S. President Donald Trump touted on Saturday his deal averting tariffs on Mexico, a plan economists warned would have been disastrous for both nations. VOA

As Washington and Mexico City both took victory laps Saturday over a deal that headed off threatened tariffs on Mexican imports, it remained to be seen how effective it may be, and migration experts raised concerns about what it could mean for people fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.

Other than a vague reiteration of a joint commitment to promote development, security and growth in Central America, the agreement focuses almost exclusively on enforcement and says little about the root causes driving the surge in migrants seen in recent months.

“My sense is overall the Mexican government got out of this better than they thought. The agreement though leaves a lot of big question marks,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s good that the two sides reached an agreement which allows both of them to save face, but it’s not clear how easy it is to implement.”

Guard deployment

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Migrants sleep on a sidewalk in Tapachula, Chiapas state, Mexico, June 8, 2019. President Donald Trump has put on hold his plan to begin imposing tariffs on Mexico, saying the U.S. ally will take “strong measures” to reduce the flow of Central American migrants toward the U.S.border. VOA

The deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops appears to be the key commitment in what was described as “unprecedented steps” by Mexico to ramp up enforcement, though Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero said that had already been planned and was not a result of external pressure.

“I have said before, migration into Mexico also has to be regulated … orderly, legal and safe,” Sanchez Cordero told The Associated Press. “So the National Guard that we were going to deploy anyway, we’re going to deploy. It’s not because they tell us to, but rather because we’re going to do it anyway.”

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Mexican measures

Mexico was already increasing enforcement with detentions, deportations and checkpoints. In recent weeks it broke up the latest migrant caravan, snuffing out most of the appetite for traveling in large, visible groups.

If Mexico does more as promised, it’s likely to be seen in intensification of those same efforts, experts said — raids on hotels where migrants stay or on bus companies transporting them north to the U.S. border. The two countries also agreed to share information on and disrupt people-smuggling networks, a new focus seen earlier this week when Mexico arrested two migration activists and froze accounts of over two dozen people alleged to have organized caravans.

A concern is that even more aggressive enforcement could put migrants with legitimate asylum claims at risk of being deported from Mexico to the dangers they fled in the first place. Also, Mexican security forces are known for often being corrupt and shaking migrants down for bribes. A renewed crackdown is seen as making migration through Mexico more difficult and more dangerous, but doing little to discourage Central Americans desperate to escape poverty, hunger and violence.

Mexico, US, Tarrif
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard gets ready to talk to reporters as he leaves the State Department in Washington, June 7, 2019. VOA

“People are fleeing their homes regardless of what the journey might mean and regardless of what chance they may have for seeking protections in Mexico or in the United States,” said Maureen Meyer, an immigration expert at the Washington Office on Latin America, “simply because they need to leave.”

Human element missing

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“It seems like in all these discussions [about tariffs and immigration], the human reality of these people and why they’re leaving Central America was lost,” she continued. “It was ‘what can we do to stop them,’ and not ‘what can we really do to create the conditions in their home countries so that people don’t have to leave.’ ”

Another key element of the deal is that the United States will expand a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocol, or MPP. According to Mexican immigration authorities, since January there have been 10,393 returns by migrants to Mexico while their cases wend their way through U.S. courts.

MPP has been plagued by glitches and so far has been introduced only in California and El Paso, Texas, and Selee said there are logistical hurdles to further expansion. Right now the MPP figure of 10,000 or so represents “a drop in the bucket” compared with overall migration, he added.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who led the negotiations, said the agreement does not include any quotas.

Mexico, US, Tarrif
A woman waves a Mexican flag prior to a speech by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at a rally in Tijuana, Mexico, June 8, 2019. VOA

If MPP does roll out on a mass scale along the United States’ entire southern border, it could overwhelm Mexican border cities. Mexico promised to offer jobs, health care and education for returnees, but has little infrastructure to do so. Currently most shelters and support programs are run by the likes of NGOs and the Roman Catholic Church.

And if the program were to include places like Tamaulipas, the Gulf coast state where cartels and gangs control large swaths of territory, migrants could be at even greater risk.

Dangerous area

“This is an area that the U.S. government considers that it’s not safe for any American citizen,” Meyer said, referring to the State Department’s highest-level warning against all travel to Tamaulipas because of crime and kidnappings. “And yet it’s OK for us to send people back there?”

Still, the deal was hailed by many in Mexican industry and politics.

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Arturo Rocha, a Foreign Relations Department spokesman, tweeted late Friday that it was “an unquestionable triumph for Mexico.” Avoiding tariffs sends a calming message to ratings agencies worried about a possible trade war, he said, adding that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government had won U.S. recommitment to Central American development and resisted “safe third country” designation, a concession sought by Washington that would have required asylum seekers to apply first in Mexico.

However, Abdel Camargo, an anthropologist at the Frontera Sur College in southern Mexico, said that by accepting MPP returnees, “Mexico does not become a safe third country but de facto is going to act as one.”

Some such as ex-President Felipe Calderon of the conservative opposition National Action Party questioned whether Mexico was truly master of its own migratory policy. But Jose Antonio Meade, a five-time Cabinet minister who lost last year’s election to Lopez Obrador, praised Ebrard for avoiding damaging tariffs “in the face of very complex conditions.”

In San Jose del Cabo for a summit of North American mayors, Juan Manuel Gastelum of Tijuana, across from San Diego, said he’s fine with more migrants being returned to his city as long as the federal government invests in caring for them. He added that the threat of tariffs may have been necessary to force his country’s hand.

“How else was Mexico going to understand that it is not right to leave migration uncontrolled?” said Gastelum, who is also a member of National Action.

Tijuana rally

Meanwhile, a rally later Saturday in Tijuana that Lopez Obrador called to defend Mexican pride and dignity was expected to take on more of a festive atmosphere.

“It was [originally supposed to be] a meeting to show support for the incoming governor … that turned into a demand for peace and respect on the tariffs issue,” local restaurateur and businessman Francisco Villegas said. “But since the tariffs issue was sorted out by having Marcelo Ebrard and his team up there, it is now turning into a celebration.” (VOA)