For a country that supposedly only agreed to the status quo, Mexico seems pretty busy making a lot of changes. Almost as soon as Donald Trump announced an agreement with Mexico to sharply reduce the flow of illegal immigration to the US border, the US media rushed to call it a defeat. Trump didn’t get anything Mexico hadn’t already agreed to do, and news outlets concluded that Trump caved rather than apply the tariffs.
If that’s the case, though, why is Mexico rushing to build a security apparatus in “weeks”? The Washington Post reports today that Mexico is feeling the pressure:
Mexico, threatened with tariffs by President Trump, agreed last week to contain the surge of migrants from Central America heading to the United States. But if the country cannot prove its ability to enforce its borders, it risks yet another diplomatic confrontation with its neighbor to the north. …
The United States built its border security apparatus over decades. Mexico now has just weeks.
If the country fails to stem the flow within 45 days, the United States will push for a “safe third country” agreement, which would keep asylum seekers in Mexico — a political high-wire act for the government here. In 90 days, Trump could reassert tariffs .
“We are not going to fail,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, told reporters this week.
Success would look, in part, like the scene at this tiny checkpoint one day this week — a growing contingent of security personnel stopping anyone who looks like a migrant.
Does that sound like business as usual? As a country who outlasted Trump on his tariff threat? It sounds a lot more like a country that spent decades offering baseless claims of doing as much as they could to stem the flood of illegal immigration trying to do in weeks what they should have been doing all along.
As I wrote in my column for The Week, the idea that Trump’s threat didn’t pay off was patently absurd. All the media had to do was wait for Mexico’s reaction to realize that they had scrambled to appease Trump and demonstrate significant improvement on security. The Washington Post actually did better than some other media outlets on that score:
The Washington Post offered a more positive view of the agreement. Their headline suggested that Mexico had “talked Trump out of [his] tariff threat,” and the analysis said they did so “by agreeing to an unprecedented crackdown on Central American migrants and accepting more-expansive measures in Mexico if the initial efforts don’t deliver quick results.” Those expansive measures, reported according to communications between negotiators, “include the deployment of a militarized national guard at the Guatemalan border, thousands of additional migrant arrests per week and the acceptance of busloads of asylum seekers turned away from the U.S. border daily.”
The only major demand that Trump didn’t win in the fight was an adoption of a “safe third country” protocol by Mexico. That would force migrants from Central and South America to apply for asylum in the first safe country they enter — arguably Mexico, although drug cartel violence might make that a questionable call. López Obrador had long opposed that policy, and he managed to avoid it — for now. In one measure of who won this standoff, foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters that they only staved off the demand by asking Mike Pence for time to show that other actions would be effective in solving the American border crisis.
“In the meeting with the vice president of the United States,” Ebrard told reporters on Monday, “they were insistent on the safe third country issue. We told them — I think it was the most important achievement of the negotiations — ‘let’s set a time period to see if what Mexico is proposing will work, and if not, we’ll sit down and see what additional measures’ [are required].” If the numbers of migrants hitting the U.S. border do not decline appreciably, Ebrard said, Mexico might have to adopt the protocol to avoid damaging tariffs.
The Post notes that there’s another measure of Trump’s success, too. In March, the Mexican government started issuing “humanitarian visas” that ostensibly gave migrants the right to enter, but slowed the process of entry a bit. In reality, those allowed transit through the country to the US border undisturbed. After the agreement, that policy has been halted:
Periodically, Mexican officials emerged from the agency building to try to calm the crowd. But Pacheco and many others knew: Withholding those visas would help Mexico meet its 41-day deadline. Whispers of the U.S.-Mexico deal had spread among the crowd.
“What we’re hearing is that things have changed,” she said.
We’re hearing that too. Finally.