Trump hints at extra measures in Mexican migrant deal
Donald Trump on Sunday defended his deal with Mexico on migrants and hinted at additional unspecified measures after criticism that his threats to impose tariffs had won little in the way of new concessions.
The US president sent a flurry of tweets on Sunday morning as he sought to downplay claims that the agreement announced on Friday merely repackaged promises Mexico had already made in previous negotiations.
The deal to reduce the number of people crossing the US-Mexico border averted tariffs that Mr Trump had pledged to impose as soon as Monday unless Mexico City took action on migration.
“We have been trying to get some of these Border Actions for a long time, as have other administrations, but were not able to get them, or get them in full, until our signed agreement with Mexico,” said Mr Trump in a tweet.
Mr Trump’s use of tariff threats, a trade tool, as leverage in negotiations over border security had rankled Republicans, who worried that the US economy would suffer from tariffs on goods from its third-largest trading partner.
He had promised to impose escalating tariffs, beginning at 5 per cent, if Mexico City did not stop the migration of people from central American states such as Guatemala and El Salvador, through Mexico, into the US.
The number of crossings at the US-Mexico border has risen to its highest level in a decade, despite Mr Trump’s promises during the 2016 presidential election to rein in immigration and build a wall at the southern border.
As part of the deal announced on Friday, Mexico promised to deploy its National Guard police force to almost a dozen towns along it southern border. The deal also expanded a scheme where asylum seekers attempting to resettle in the US were returned to Mexico while they awaited a court hearing.
The agreement did not include any “safe third country” agreement, which would force asylum seekers to seek refuge in Mexico rather than travelling to the US.
The president also said on Sunday that as part of the deal Mexico would make “large” agricultural purchases from the US.
However, agricultural trade was not part of the joint communiqué released on Friday. One Mexican official who declined to be named denied Mexico had accepted any additional agricultural purchases, and assumed the US president was referring to expectations that trade would grow now the threat of tariffs had been lifted.
“We read this as a return to the status quo and we have zero intention to get into another spat. He can frame it as he wants,” said the official, noting that in any case the private sector, rather than the Mexican government directly, purchased agricultural goods.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Saturday ahead of a rally at the US border city of Tijuana that he spoke with Mr Trump to offer a commitment to dialogue.
“I told him that in Tijuana I will say that the president of the United States does not raise a closed fist, but rather an open and outspoken hand,” Mr López Obrador posted on Twitter. “We reiterate our willingness to friendship, dialogue and collaboration for the good of our peoples.”
On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the National Guard deployment agreed by Mexico had already been pledged in March. The expansion of the scheme where asylum seekers are forced to wait in Mexico had been signalled in April by Kirstjen Nielsen, then Homeland Security secretary.
Mr Trump rejected the criticisms on Sunday and claimed that Mexico “was not being co-operative” before his dramatic threat to impose tariffs late last month.
He also said there were elements of the deal not announced on Friday that would be revealed later, without any details.
“If President Obama made the deals that I have made, both at the Border and for the Economy, the Corrupt Media would be hailing them as Incredible, & a National Holiday would be immediately declared. With me, despite our record setting Economy and all that I have done, no credit!” said the US president.
The Mexican official who spoke to the FT also denied that parts of Friday’s deal, such as deployment of the National Guard or an extension to the so-called Remain in Mexico programme, had been agreed previously.