Mexico disputes Trump claim on secret immigration deal

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WASHINGTON — The Mexican foreign minister said Monday that no secret immigration deal existed between his country and the United States, directly contradicting President Donald Trump’s claim on Twitter that a “fully signed and documented” agreement would be revealed soon.

Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s top diplomat, said at a news conference in Mexico City that there was an understanding that both sides would evaluate the flow of migrants in the coming months. If the number of migrants crossing the U.S. border is not significantly reduced, he said, both sides have agreed to renew discussions about more aggressive changes to regional asylum rules that could have a bigger effect.

“Let’s have a deadline to see if what we have works and if not, then we will sit down and look at the measures you propose and those that we propose,” Ebrard said, describing the understanding reached by negotiators last week.

The public statement served as an official response to several days of tweeting by Trump, who has reacted angrily to the suggestion that he withdrew his threat of tariffs on all Mexican goods in exchange for a weak deal on immigration.

Trump has insisted that the agreement reached with Mexico on Friday evening is a strong one, rejecting criticism that it largely called upon the Mexicans to take actions to reduce the flow of immigration that they had already agreed to months earlier.

In a Twitter post Monday morning, he said, “We have fully signed and documented another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico, one that the U.S. has been asking about getting for many years. It will be revealed in the not too distant future and will need a vote by Mexico’s Legislative body!”

U.S. officials said Monday that what Trump appeared to be referring to was the agreement in principle to revisit the migration situation, and they said it gave the United States strong leverage over Mexico to live up to its promises. The numbers will be reviewed in 45 days and again in 90 days, officials said.

The “U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration” that Trump announced with fanfare Friday did include a mention of possible “further action.” It said the two countries agreed to “continue their discussions on the terms of additional understandings to address irregular migrant flows and asylum issues, to be completed and announced within 90 days, if necessary.”

One idea that Washington has proposed for years is a “safe third country” arrangement in which migrants who flee persecution in Central American countries would first have to apply for asylum in Mexico. Those who do not could be turned away if they seek refuge in the United States. Mexico has long opposed the idea.

But there appeared to be a significant disagreement Monday between the Mexican government and U.S. officials about what the negotiators actually agreed to regarding further action and the possibility of implementing a “safe third country” arrangement.

Administration officials characterized the Mexicans as having all but agreed to asylum changes that would effectively mimic the benefits of “safe third country” as long as it was done regionally, including countries like Guatemala.

Trump did not specifically mention the idea but said Monday that “we have an agreement on something they will announce very soon. It’s all done.”

But that was not the understanding described by Ebrard at his Monday news conference. He told reporters only that Mexican officials would discuss changing asylum rules if the flow of migrants was not substantially reduced in the next few months.

Ebrard said Mexico preferred a regional asylum agreement that would review the flow of migrants across Mexico and Central America, with a number of countries, including Panama and Brazil.

But Ebrard said any agreement on the asylum changes would have to be negotiated and then approved by the Mexican Senate before it could go into effect. He said the agreement announced Friday effectively delayed that discussion, giving Mexico time to prove to Trump that it would help reduce the flow of immigration that has so infuriated him since the beginning of his presidency.

Ebrard also denied that there was an agreement reached on Mexico purchasing additional agricultural goods from the United States, rejecting a claim Trump made twice on Twitter.

The deal Trump announced Friday included two main provisions that he said would slash the number of immigrants to the United States.

One of those was a promise by the Mexicans to deploy their newly constituted national guard to the border with Guatemala. Mexico had agreed to do that in March, but officials said the Mexican government agreed to send more troops more quickly last week.

The other provision in Friday’s agreement was an expansion of a plan to allow the United States to force asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal case proceeds. The declaration said that “this means that those crossing the U.S. southern border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico, where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims.”

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