Trump Says He Thinks U.S. And Mexican Officials Can Reach A Deal On Migrants

Jun 8, 2019

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump says he thinks there's a good chance that U.S. and Mexican officials can hammer out a deal on migrants. Tweeting from Air Force One today, he again said that if the talks fail, 5% tariffs would go into effect starting Monday.

In talks this week, Mexico has agreed to send National Guard troops to its southern border with Guatemala to try to slow people coming north. There has also been some talk about what's known as a Safe Third Country Agreement, and we'll have more on that in a moment.

For more on the talks, we are joined by NPR Mexico correspondent Carrie Kahn and diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hello to both of you.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Michele, let's start with you. What do we know about the talks, and what is under discussion?

KELEMEN: Well, the big thing that's under discussion now, it seems, is this idea that you just mentioned of a Safe Third Country Agreement. Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, explained it this way today.

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MARC SHORT: They would say that if you're from a country south of Mexico and you step into Mexico, it'd require that that's where your asylum proceedings have to take place as opposed to the United States because our asylum laws are so broken.

KELEMEN: So that's what he says they're working on right now - this idea of keeping asylum-seekers further south down in Mexico before they come here. He says Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put this demand on the table on Wednesday when these big negotiations started here in Washington. And he says that the Mexicans have been receptive, but there's a long way to go.

SHAPIRO: Do you know what the sticking points are?

KELEMEN: Well, the Mexicans initially opposed this big change in how the asylum rules work. They came here with their own ideas. And they've been arguing that the U.S. and Mexico should be working together to address the root causes of migration - poverty and violence in Central America. Those are all longer-term solutions, but the White House is really pushing for something more immediate. And they seem to be getting down to the nitty-gritty here. I mean, legal teams and experts at the State Department have been hard at work all day here.

SHAPIRO: Mexico has made some concessions this week. And, Carrie Kahn, tell us a little bit more about those - for example, these 6,000 National Guard troops that are going to Mexico's southern border with Guatemala. What do you know about that?

KAHN: Well, I think there's a lot of questions about those troops. Foremost, where are they going to get these troops from? This National Guard was just created by the new president, and it hasn't even gotten up and running. And estimates of it doing - at full strength aren't until 2021. But the - also a bigger question is, where and what public security situation will they take the troops away from to send them to the border?

You know, Mexico is dealing with record rates of homicides and violence. So are they going to pull resources from fighting drug traffickers, organized crime? You know, where are they going to get these troops, and what's going to be left out while they move them?

SHAPIRO: Up until now, what has Mexico been doing to manage the flow of migrants from Central America? The way President Trump describes it, they sort of turn a blind eye. Is that actually what Mexico's policy has been?

KAHN: Well, I think at the border right there with Guatemala, it's pretty wide - pretty much wide open. Migrants cross in freely. But then you come in about 20, 30 miles north in the southern town of Tapachula and a bit further. Mexican officials do attempt to round migrants up. They have been deterring them, insisting they register with authorities. It's just - the immigration institute in Mexico has always been chronically under-resourced and underfunded and also rife with corruption. And it just had its budget slashed, too.

So - but despite that, in the last few days, Mexico has been stepping up enforcement in the south. They've been detaining large groups of migrants walking northward. They arrested two high-profile immigrant rights advocates who've been very visible in aiding migrant caravans in the past. And they also said they froze the bank accounts of 26 other individuals who are responsible for funding migrant caravans.

SHAPIRO: Michele, President Trump sometimes moves the goalposts in these kinds of negotiations. Do we know what would be required, what Mexico would have to do to satisfy the president that this emergency, as he describes it, has been addressed and the tariffs would not need to take effect?

KELEMEN: Well, that's been a huge question hanging over all of these talks These have been discussions with lower-level officials who don't really know what exactly the goalposts are going to be. We're going to hear that from the president himself.

And, you know, he's also saying he's going to move forward with this notification of import of putting on the tariffs starting on Monday. Aides today were saying that, well, he can turn that off over the weekend if the negotiations get somewhere. But again, Ari, these are very big and problematic areas, thorny issues that take a long time to negotiate, as we've seen this week.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen and also NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico. Thanks to both of you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.