Victory? Mexico might agree to "sweeping" plan to change regional asylum laws to avoid tariff threat, says WaPo

It’d be a yuuuuuge win for Trump if so, arguably the biggest of his presidency. Certainly the biggest on immigration. And of course it’d be vindication of his decision to play hardball with tariffs — which would leave Mexico in a precarious position. If this deal comes off because Trump threatened to choke them economically if they didn’t meet his demands, he’s bound to resort to the same tactic again the next time he wants something for them. If you pay the danegeld once, you’ll eventually be asked to pay it again.

Which is to say, we’re probably destined for a trade war with Mexico at some point. But maybe not right now.

I confess my ignorance up front to immigration policy wonks: WaPo never uses the words “safe third country” agreement here when describing the asylum measures being discussed, but isn’t that what they’re referring to?

Faced with Trump’s threat to impose escalating tariffs on Mexican goods beginning Monday, Mexican officials have pledged to deploy up to 6,000 National Guard troops to the country’s border region with Guatemala, a show of force they say will make immediate reductions in the number of Central Americans heading north toward the U.S. border.

The Mexican official and the U.S. official said the countries are negotiating a sweeping plan to overhaul asylum rules across the region, a move that would require Central Americans to seek refuge in the first foreign country they set foot upon after fleeing their homeland.

Under such a plan, the United States would swiftly deport Guatemalan asylum seekers who set foot on U.S. soil to Mexico. And the United States would send Honduran and Salvadoran asylum applicants to Guatemala, whose government held talks with acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week.

Jazz noted this morning that Mexico’s southern border has already been beefed up.

WaPo’s sources, one American and one Mexican official, warned that “the accord is not finalized and that President Trump might not accept it.” It’s easy to imagine them hitting a snag — although I can’t imagine why Trump would reject a deal given these terms. The administration has been leaning on Mexico to sign a “safe third country” treaty of the sort it has with Canada, which would empower the U.S. to reject anyone applying for asylum who didn’t apply in the first safe country they passed through while fleeing their home nations. That is, if you’re an immigrant seeking refuge from persecution and you travel through Canada to reach to the U.S., you’re turned away here automatically because you didn’t seek refuge in Canada first. If the U.S. had that arrangement with its southern neighbor, it could summarily reject tens of thousands of Central Americans passing through Mexico en route to our border on grounds that they should have sought asylum in Mexico instead.

Isn’t that what’s being described in the excerpt? I’m uncertain because (a) as noted, WaPo never calls this a “safe third country” agreement and (b) until very recently Mexico had been adamant that it wouldn’t sign such a treaty. That is, or was, their “red line,” reported Reuters a few days ago. If they’re suddenly the country of last resort for asylum-seekers instead of the U.S., they could soon have their own massive immigration problem.

It sounds from this new NYT story like it may be a question of numbers. The Times reports that Mexico’s foreign minister told Mike Pence at yesterday’s meeting that Mexico would increase enforcement at its own southern border, target migrant traffickers more aggressively, and “offer asylum to thousands of Central American migrants who might otherwise seek protection in the United States.” “Thousands” is good, but “thousands” isn’t everyone; there may, in other words, be a cap on how many people Mexico’s willing to grant asylum to, which would help with the crush at America’s southern border but certainly not solve it. That would also explain why Pence was heard after yesterday’s meeting saying that Mexico isn’t offering nearly enough. A “safe third country” agreement would, presumably, be enough. A more limited offer of asylum to several thousand people wouldn’t be.

So maybe there’s less here than meets the eye. Or maybe — hopefully — the Mexican government panicked overnight and decided to cave on a “safe third country” deal today. Let’s hope so, because the economic impact on Texas of tariffs taking effect next week would be u-g-l-y. As of 4:20 p.m. ET, the White House is weighing whether to delay the start of the tariffs next week so that the two sides can keep talking. Stay tuned for updates.

Update: The Times confirms that a major asylum deal is being discussed.

Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly demanded that Mexico end all illegal immigration into the United States, has not yet given his approval of the direction of the talks and no deal has been reached, the officials said. But they said Mexico and Guatemala have agreed to consider significant changes in asylum laws across the region that would allow the United States to reject requests for protection from many people fleeing persecution.

The arrangement being discussed would require migrants to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter. It would mean that people from Guatemala who want refuge in the United States could be quickly sent to Mexico instead, while those fleeing El Salvador and Honduras who try to enter the United States could be turned away and sent instead to Guatemala.

The story goes on to note that Mexico has resisted a formal “safe third country” agreement for years and that that has “dimmed hopes for an immediate breakthrough before Monday’s tariff deadline.” So it seems the deal they’re hashing out involves something short of that, although it would still mean many more asylum-seekers end up in Mexico instead of the U.S. — assuming, that is, that they bother leaving Central America at all once they know Mexico rather than America is their ultimate destination.

The left will end up opposing this on grounds that Mexico simply isn’t “safe” enough and thus we have no choice but to absorb as many Central Americans as want to come here. Fait accompli.