The art of the deal: Mexico agrees to house asylum applicants

Maybe this is how Donald Trump gets out of his present public-relations jam on the border wall — assuming he wants an out, that is. Mexico will now keep asylum applicants on the other side of the border, thanks to an agreement reached between the two countries announced today. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo framed it in tough language:

Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen offered an equally tough statement while testifying before a House Oversight committee:

Migrants heading to the southwest border to seek asylum in the United States will have to wait in Mexico until their claims are processed, under an agreement between the two countries announced on Thursday that will affect tens of thousands of people each month.

Only about 9 percent of people are actually granted asylum. The Trump administration says too many migrants make false claims.

“They will not be able to disappear into the United States,” Nielsen said on Thursday in remarks before the House Judiciary Committee. “They will have to wait for approval. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries.”

Discussions on the arrangement have been going on between the two countries for months, well before the new leadership took over in Mexico on Dec. 1. On Thursday, the Mexican foreign ministry said Mexico had agreed to it on a temporary basis for humanitarian reasons, and it would affect those “who entered that country or had been apprehended at border entry points, and who have been interviewed by that country’s immigration authorities and who have received a court date to appear before an immigration judge.”

Mexico may not be paying for a wall, Trump can argue, but they’re paying for the housing. The statement from Mexico seems to indicate that the deal is just temporary, but that might be because the two nations are partnering on disincentives to cross the southern border — of Mexico. When writing about this yesterday, Jazz noted that it lacked an agreement to “keep migrants on their side of the border permanently,” which Mexico’s read on this deal suggests still remains an issue. If they can dry up the demand, though, it may not matter.

Of course, this could have some potential for backfire. If those trying to cross legally with asylum applications can no longer do so, it might incentivize them to cross illegally instead. That would make a border barrier more necessary, not less, at least in the short run until that demand dried up. However, in the shorter political run, it’s a legit win for Donald Trump, one that might take the sting off of an inevitable retreat on the border wall funding fight before Christmas.

This certainly gives Nielsen a boost, too. Just five weeks ago, Nielsen looked as though she was on the fast track to the private sector, a target of Trump’s public ire over a lack of progress on border security. Her mentor John Kelly got the exit already, but perhaps this might keep Nielsen in place for a while longer. As long as Nielsen can secure the border enough to shore up any swell of crossings after this goes into place, Trump’s better off with her than without her and trying to get another nominee through the Senate. The fact that the White House allowed Nielsen to be the face of this announcement rather than Trump himself suggests that they see it the same way.