Analysis. AMLO, the Mexican president, will tighten immigration, and Washington will support Mexico’s economic development plan in the south of the country and in Central America.

Mexico avoids tariff spike at the expense of migrants

In Mexico, news of the agreement with the US to avert Trump’s threatened trade war was received with both satisfaction and relief: the imposition of progressively increasing tariffs on all Mexican imports was, after all, averted. The relief is justified, as the application of tariffs would have caused incalculable damage to the Mexican economy which is radically dependent on American trade. Legitimate doubts remain, however, on whether that satisfaction is fully justified.

Was this a Mexican capitulation? Probably not: the agreement reached on Friday after 12 hours of marathon negotiations doesn’t include any radical changes from the current situation.

The Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, the true architect of the agreement, explained that the US’s attempt to designate Mexico as a “safe third country” to which it could send back all asylum seekers was not included in the final agreement; likewise, compared to the more “drastic measures” proposed by Washington, the final agreed position was at “some middle point.”

For its part, Mexico committed to tightening its immigration enforcement to reduce the flow of migrants toward the United States—as it had already begun to do, under pressure from the neighboring power—starting with the already announced deployment of 6,000 personnel from the Guardia Nacional on the border with Guatemala.

Secondly, the decision was made to expand the “Permanecer en México” program, which means that a greater number of migrants awaiting asylum hearings will be sent back to Mexico where they will have to wait for the decision of the American authorities—a program that the US authorities had said would be expanded “immediately.”

Regarding this particular concession, Ebrard was quick to clarify that, if the aforementioned measures tightening up the system—which are obviously seen as greater priorities—are effective, one would not expect that there would be many more people waiting for an answer on their asylum request.

Then, if the steps mentioned so far do not produce the desired results, the third point of the agreement provides for the parties to resume talks and agree on other actions within 90 days. Finally, acquiescing to the request by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the US reaffirmed its commitment to the Mexican initiative aimed at furthering regional economic development in Central America and southern Mexico, as the only possible way to tackle the causes of migration at the root.

For his part, AMLO expressed great satisfaction at the deal. In his speech on Friday, he tried to square the circle of the increased enforcement and expulsions at the border with Guatemala (which he euphemistically called “accompany[ing] the return of migrants to their home countries”) with respect for human rights and the promotion of inclusive regional development.

It is unlikely, however, that the high-grade spin by the Mexican president will be well received by the people fleeing poverty and violence in the Central American countries.

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