Mexico is not happy – actually, angry – about President Donald Trump’s expectation that it would hold tens of thousands of apprehended migrants who can’t be immediately deported, regardless of where they come from.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray vowed Wednesday that Mexico will not accept the Trump’s administration “unilateral” directives and that President Enrique Peña Nieto will make that clear to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly when they meet on Thursday.
“I want to make clear, in the most emphatic way, that the government of Mexico and the people of Mexico will not accept decisions that, in a unilateral way, are imposed by another government,” Videgaray told reporters in Mexico City.
Videgaray said the Mexican government would not hesitate to turn to the United Nations to denounce actions by the United States.
The Trump administration’s plan to send immigrants who can’t immediately be deported to Mexico to await court hearings set off a massive outcry. It’s the biggest flare up between the two long-time allies since Trump promised that Mexico would pay for a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and further strains one the U.S.’s most important international relationships.
The Trump administration on Tuesday made public new rules on immigration enforcement that vastly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to detain and deport people in the country illegally.
The release of the documents signed by Kelly outlined how immigrants entitled to a court appearance would no longer be released into the United States to await their hearing date. If they couldn’t be deported to their home country, many would be sent to wait in Mexico.
The two nations have long seen the issue of immigration as a sovereign issue.
While advocating for the fair treatment of Mexican nationals living and apprehended in the United States, Mexican officials have been tolerant of the United States rights to impose its own policies. But Jorge Guajardo, Mexico's former ambassador to China, said the expectation that Mexico would take U.S. detainees without serious bilateral talks is step too far.
“You can’t just unilaterally decide something like this without the other country cooperating,” Guajardo said. He pointed out that many people of many nationalities, not just Central Americans, enter the United States from Mexico.
“There are humongous numbers of Chinese,” he said, recalling his time as ambassador. “It was a huge issue that I had to deal with when I was in China.”
Despite Videgaray’s pledge to fight the measures, the Department of Homeland Security insisted Wednesday that it is working with the Mexican government and the Department of State “to determine how to best implement the guidance.”
Andrew Selee, executive vice president of the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, who has studied Mexico extensively, said the Trump administration risks damaging one of the most important bilateral relationship the United States has.
Mexico is the third largest U.S. trading partner. The two countries share intelligence on drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism. They work together to curb migration flows from Central America.
The majority of people crossing the U.S.’s southern border are not Mexicans. The number of Mexicans crossing the border illegally has dropped to a 40-year low, according to the Wilson Center.
More than 408,000 people were apprehended along the southern border last year. Most were fleeing poverty and violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, three of the most violent countries in the world.
The United States has looked to Mexico to stop most from arriving. Mexico deports more Central Americans than the United States – 150,000 in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
Selee said it’s clear that preserving Mexican ties is behind Trump sending two of his top cabinet members to Mexico.
“The reality is so much of the U.S. Mexico relationship depends on trust,” Selee said, adding “If that trust crumbles, I don’t think you’ll see a collapse of cooperation, but you could see a fraying at the edges. And things once taken for granted are going to be a lot more difficult.”
In a hearing Wednesday for Mexico’s new ambassador-designate to Washington, Gerónimo Gutiérez, Sen. Gabriela Cuevas suggested Mexico discontinue its policy of deporting Central Americans at the behest of the U.S. government.
“If the United States wants talk about immigration matters, they need to sit at the table like a peer or Mexico should leave the table and change its migratory policy on Central America,” Cuevas told reporters. “We’re not here to do the work of the United States.”
Guarjardo said the two countries need to cooperate and the Trump administration has continued to assume that it can act unilaterally.
“They can’t just do that,” Guarjardo said in an interview. “This isn’t waste that you throw into your neighbor’s yard. These are human beings that have rights under the Geneva convention that each country has to respect. This is one of the typical cases when both countries need to cooperate.”