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Homeland Security Secretary Kelly: No use of US military to enforce immigration

Seeking to tamp down growing unease in Latin America, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly pledged Thursday that the United States won’t enlist its military to enforce immigration laws and that there will be “no mass deportations.”

Only hours earlier, President Donald Trump suggested the opposite. He told CEOs at the White House the deportation push was a “military operation.”

Kelly, speaking in Mexico’s capital, said all deportations will comply with human rights requirements and the U.S. legal system, including its multiple appeals for those facing deportation. He said the U.S. approach will involve “close coordination” with Mexico’s government.

“There will be no use of military forces in immigration,” Kelly said. “There will be no repeat, no mass deportations.”

Yet while Kelly and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to alleviate Mexico’s concerns, Trump was fanning them further, with tough talk about “getting really bad dudes out of this country at a rate nobody has ever seen before.”

“It’s a military operation,” Trump said Thursday while his envoys were in Mexico City. “Because what has been allowed to come into our country, when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before and all of the things, much of that is people who are here illegally.”

It was an altogether different message from Kelly and Tillerson, who traveled here to meet with top Mexican officials at a time of intense turbulence for U.S.-Mexico relations. Indeed, Trump acknowledged he had sent his top diplomat south of the border on a “tough trip.”

In contrast to Trump, Tillerson and Kelly emphasized a U.S. commitment to work closely with Mexico on border security, illegal immigration and trafficking of drugs and weapons issues Trump has made a central focus of his young presidency, much to Mexico’s dismay. Both Tillerson and Kelly appeared to downplay any major rift between the U.S. and Mexico.

“In a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences,” Tillerson said. “We listened closely and carefully to each other as we respectfully and patiently raised our respective concerns.”

For Mexico, that patience was running short. Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Videgaray noted the “public and notorious differences” between the countries and said the Mexicans had raised the “legal impossibility” of a government making “unilateral” decisions affecting another country. Videgaray has previously raised the prospect Mexico could seek recourse at the United Nations or elsewhere for U.S. moves violating international law.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said. The divergent tones from Trump and from his Cabinet officials left Mexico with an uncomfortable decision about whom to believe. Throughout Trump’s first weeks, foreign leaders have grown increasingly skeptical as Trump’s envoys deliver soothing messages that are then negated by the president.

Mexico has been incensed that the U.S. announced without Mexico’s sign-off that people caught crossing the border illegally will be sent back to Mexico even those from third countries who have no connection to Mexico. Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Kelly’s Mexican counterpart, said that concern had come up Thursday, too. Both countries said it was positive that the neighbors remained committed to working through the disputes diplomatically, though there were no indications they were any closer to a resolution. As the Americans wrapped up their Mexico visit, they remained at odds with their hosts over the deportations and over the massive border wall Trump has vowed to construct at Mexico’s expense. Trump spoke during the presidential campaign about using a “deportation force.” His Homeland Security Department at one point considered using the National Guard to help with deportations, although the White House has said that idea has been ruled out.

The Homeland Security Department didn’t immediately respond to requests to clarify why Trump’s remark about “a military operation” had conflicted with that of Kelly, who blamed the media for “misreporting.” At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump hadn’t been speaking literally. He said Trump used the “military operation” phrase “as an adjective” to describe the precision with which immigration enforcement was being carried out. Tillerson and Kelly also met behind closed doors with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before returning to Washington. Pena Nieto recently canceled a trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall. It has not been rescheduled. In addition to sending border-crossers from third countries into Mexico, new memos signed by Kelly this week call for prioritizing deportation for anyone charged or convicted of any crime, rather than just serious crimes. That potentially subjects millions in the U.S. illegally to deportation, many Mexicans included.

Those policies have stoked fears in Mexico about the possibility of deportee and refugee camps emerging along Mexico’s northern border. Mexican officials were also apprehensive that a forthcoming report ordered by Trump’s administration listing all current U.S. aid to Mexico is intended to threaten Mexico into compliance over immigration or the wall.

Mexico has also raised concerns about Trump’s pledge to overhaul the trade relationship and possibly apply steep taxes to Mexican products, a move with profound impacts for Mexico’s export-heavy economy. Tillerson said the leaders had agreed the trade relationship needed to be modernized and strengthened.

Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

Trump’s top officials seek to sell Mexico on new immigration crackdown

The Mexican border police officer hung from the back of the truck rumbling through the streets of Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala, one hand on the overhead roll bar and the other on his AR-15 rifle. Made in the USA, he said. So was his bullet-proof vest. And much of his training.

His unit is meant to help migrants, but his gear underscored the close relationship and direct assistance that Mexican security forces have with their counterparts in the United States, a relationship that’s matured in recent years to reach unprecedented cooperation combating drugs, transnational crime and migration.

That’s the reality that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will confront in Mexico this week, as they make the hard sell to Mexican President Enrique Pe a Nieto and other officials on President Donald Trump’s tough new immigration directives.

Released publicly on Tuesday, the new orders rescind most all of President Barack Obama’s orders and guidance on immigration, staking out a much tougher line on undocumented migrants in the United States. They make it easier for U.S. officials to deport huge numbers of immigrants simply for having entered illegally. They also expand “expedited removal” without a hearing for those caught within two years of entering and anywhere the U.S., a clear break with the Obama administration, which only used the practice for those apprehended within two weeks of entering and within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The directives would even deport foreign nationals to countries other than their own.

“There’s a misperception that because the U.S. is much bigger and in many ways more powerful, that Mexico lacks leverage,” Chris Wilson, the deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Foreign Policy. “Right now Mexico is deporting more Central Americans than the U.S., so many would say Mexico is doing some of the United States’s dirty work all of that and Mexico has basically stated as much is on the line if the cooperative framework of the relationship is lost.”

Under Obama, exceptions were made for immigrants brought to the United States as children and some of their parents. Despite reports of people under these programs being detained under the administration’s on-going crackdown, the White House says that for now, the new directives maintain that exception. Last week, Trump said he’d “show great heart” in determining the fate of some 750,000 offered work permits under the program known as DACA.

But the White House hasn’t helped allay fears. While saying immigrants who pose a threat to public safety are the priority for deportations, spokesman Sean Spicer noted Tuesday “everybody who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time.”

DHS insists its goal is not “mass deportation” of the estimated roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “We don’t need a sense of panic,” a DHS official said on a background call Tuesday to explain the new directives.

Trump has seriously strained U.S.-Mexico relations since before he took office, threatening trade wars, working on a border wall, and even talking of sending the U.S. military across the border to confront “bad hombres.” (Pe a Nieto cancelled a trip to Washington last month.) On Tuesday, Mexico’s incoming ambassador to the United States said Trump’s treatment of Mexico is “unacceptable.”

It’s left to Kelly to do the difficult work of translating the new president’s bluster into policy guidance for the frontline border patrol agents who have to implement it and the alarmed heads of state they need to make it work.

That’s especially important because the biggest immigration headache for the United States doesn’t originate in Mexico but requires Mexico’s help to tackle.

Illegal crossings into the United States from Mexico have sunk to their lowest levels in four decades, and among Mexican immigrants, the flow has in fact reversed since 2009, at the tail end of the Great Recession. Rather, it’s the violence-ridden countries of the “Golden Triangle” Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that have been the primary drivers of migration through Mexico to the United States in recent years, as seen in spikes of unaccompanied minors at the border. And it’s not just Central Americans. Global migration from Haiti and Cuba to Cameroon and Somalia has pushed more people to use the dangerous land route to the United States.

Under a grab bag of different programs, Washington has provided billions of dollars in assistance to Mexico and those Central American countries to stop their citizens from reaching the United States. Mexico has responded, dramatically stepping up its detentions and deportations, with removals doubling from 2013 to 2016, primarily of Central Americans. And more people are deciding to stay in Mexico and apply for refugee status there, rather than trying to cross into the United States. Trump’s latest orders call for auditing “all sources of direct or indirect” federal aid to Mexico, hinting at cuts.

But the Trump administration’s new rules on immigration enforcement could sour that relationship and paradoxically drive more immigration northward. The new rules could give Mexico more leverage to push back against Washington, especially if the recently-stepped up enforcement at Mexico’s southern border were scaled back, or if U.S. funding dried up.

Repatriation requires the cooperation of the country of origin and active steps to ensure the migrants don’t simply turn around and try again, particularly if they are returned to areas close to the U.S. border. On Wednesday, DHS said, Kelly will observe a repatriation flight to Guatemala of recent deportees. (The cost of such flights from the United States on average more than $8,000 an hour for charters is borne entirely by American taxpayers.)

One new provision would enable Washington to deport undocumented aliens to the country from where they crossed the border. DHS confirmed to ProPublica that it is looking to send migrants who entered the United States from Mexico back there regardless of whether or not they are Mexican citizens. DHS save it would save money and resources because U.S. officials would return migrants “to the foreign contiguous territory from which they arrived” to be detained there while they waited for their cases to be adjudicated.

“If you want to make a claim for asylum or whatever we’ll hear your case but you are going to wait in Mexico,” a DHS official said, adding the details are still being worked out with the Mexican government.

Mexico, though, would have to agree to that, and it’s not at all clear it will want to hold thousands of immigrants as they await their proceedings with U.S. officials. Additionally, a 2001 Supreme Court ruling found that if a country of origin doesn’t agree to take a migrant back, he or she must be released from detention.

“If the United States starts sending non-Mexicans back to Mexico, Mexico doesn’t have to receive them,” Wilson said. “Just like the U.S. gets to determine who is admitted, so does Mexico.”

Kelly at least, though dealt a tough hand as an emissary for Trump policies that have sparked mass protests in Mexico, has substantial experience with security counterparts in the region thanks to his former leadership of U.S. Southern Command, which stretches from the Mexican border to the southern cone. He has spent time on both sides of Mexico’s northern and southern borders, and worked extensively with the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

That experience helped inform a more nuanced view of immigration than Trump has often espoused. But it remains to be seen how much of a tempering influence Kelly has on the president.

Officials said aides to former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an immigration hardliner, drafted the latest implementation plan without input from career staffers at DHS, according to ProPublica. Kelly hinted at the Munich Security Conference last week he hadn’t gotten a chance to provide input on the rollout of Trump’s previous immigration executive orders, but would be doing so now.

Still, in his confirmation hearing before the Senate last month, Kelly praised the progress and importance of regional security forces to stanching the northward flow of migrants. In order to really stop drugs and people from reaching the U.S. border, he said the oft-touted “wall” should be built much farther south.

“Security of the border starts 1,500 miles south of the Rio Grande,” he said, “in the jungles of Latin America.”


Reporting for this article was also supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation as part of the Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative.

President Trump Wants a Wall? Mexico Is It

But as in 2005, the main buffer the United States has to stop Central American immigrants from entering illegally across the border its wall, as it were is Mexico. Mexico is a tool that the Trump administration now stands to lose.

Continue reading the main story[1]

Ever since the skirmishing of the first few days of Donald J. Trump[2] s presidency, when President Enrique Pe a Nieto of Mexico canceled a visit to the United States after Mr. Trump repeated that Mexico would pay for his promised border wall, Mexican officials have hoped that more serene heads in the administration might moderate some of Mr. Trump s more hostile proposals.

Mexico s development strategy over the last three decades has been all about tying its economy with that of the United States. The North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to be its growth engine, drawing investment by multinational companies to serve the enormous American market. Immigration north served as its pressure valve allowing it to weather repeated financial crises by allowing the American job market to absorb idle Mexican workers. Not incidentally, that also contributes to United States economic growth[3].

As I noted in a column last month,[4] with President Trump promising to turn his back on the United States southern neighbor renegotiating Nafta on presumably worse terms for Mexico and walling off the southwestern border Mexican officials are desperately trying to convince his administration that the United States needs Mexico, too.

Photo President Trump Wants A Wall? Mexico Is It Undocumented immigrants awaited deportation last April at the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo, Tex. Guidelines for President Trump s immigration crackdown say deportees will be returned to the continguous country from which they entered the United States even if they are not citizens of that country. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Their hopes, however, are likely to be dashed. This week, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and his Homeland Security counterpart, John F. Kelly, are visiting Mexico to assess what sort of bilateral cooperation might be possible in this new era. Even before they got on the plane, new rules[5] suggest that the hard line will prevail.

Two[6] memos[7] signed by Mr. Kelly guidelines for Mr. Trump s promised immigration crackdown call for aggressively seeking out, detaining and deporting immigrants living without authorization in the United States. They order the hiring of 10,000 immigration enforcement agents and 5,000 Border Patrol officers, and direct Customs and Border Protection[8] to start designing and building the wall.

And in a move sure to stir Mexican outrage, the guidelines direct immigration officials to return immigrants from any country caught entering illegally to the territory of the foreign contiguous country from which they arrived while they await removal proceedings in the United States. And that means Mexico.

Officials at the Department of Homeland Security argued that returning Central Americans to Mexico would be done only in a limited fashion, and only after discussions with the government of Mexico. Somehow, it seems unlikely that a provision designed to reduce costs for the American government by foisting them onto Mexico[9] will go down well in Mexico City.

That would violate every agreement and convention, said Gustavo Mohar, who formerly served as Mexico s top negotiator for immigration with the United States, about the provision.

Mexico is obliged to receive Mexicans, but it has the right to demand accreditation that they are indeed Mexican, Mr. Mohar said.

Continue reading the main story[10]

What might Mexico do in return[11]? Refuse to take people who can t prove Mexican citizenship? As a former foreign minister, Jorge Casta eda, told me, one option might be to get out of the way and let Central Americans cross Mexico unimpeded to the United States.

Here s what is at stake. Last year, Mexico returned 143,057 Central American migrants[12] to their countries of origin. It sent home more than 59,000 Guatemalan migrants moving north across its territory, and repatriated nearly 48,000 Hondurans and 31,000 Salvadorans, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Photo President Trump Wants A Wall? Mexico Is It Border Patrol officers at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington after President Trump ordered the construction of a wall at the Mexican border. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Over all, Mexico stopped and sent back almost twice as many Central Americans as the United States did. The question is, Could President Trump s wall replace this buffer?

History suggests the most productive policy would aim to manage immigration from poorer countries to ensure it remains legal. Trying to stop it simply pushes it underground. An immigrant guest-worker program managed by Mexico and the United States, some experts suggest[13], could help migrants, protect American workers and fulfill the needs of American employers.

But even if such enlightened policy is still politically out of reach, the argument for cooperation between Mexico and the United States remains powerful. These days, illegal migration from Mexico is a relatively minor problem[14]. Apprehensions of Mexican immigrants at the border are running at their lowest since the 1970s. Fewer Mexicans are coming north across the border than are returning home from the United States. Last year, more Central Americans than Mexicans[15] were apprehended by the Border Patrol. Mexico is now mainly a passageway.

Past American governments have recognized the importance[16] of Mexico s help. Washington has given Mexico $24 million[17] to support immigration enforcement mostly in training and high-tech gadgetry and obligated $75 million more.

Of course, Mexico doesn t do this only out of love for its northern neighbor. As Mr. Mohar points out, even if their final destination is the United States, tens of thousands of Central Americans marching northward can put stress on Mexican communities, too. Notably, if Mexican officials were to just wave them through, they would place enormous strains[18] on cities along Mexico s northern border.

And yet the new American administration might recognize that preventing Central Americans from reaching the United States imposes a high political cost on the Mexican government. In 2014, when Mr. Pe a Nieto announced the Southern Border Plan to tighten security around border points of entry and known migration corridors, he was harshly criticized for doing dirty work for the United States.

Continue reading the main story[19]

It became a news story in Mexico: Why are we treating Central American migrants like the United States treats Mexicans? said Andrew Selee, executive vice president of the Wilson Center in Washington, a research center focused on international affairs.

The Mexican government persisted because it perceived that a migration crisis on the border with the United States could also damage Mexico, he noted. There were other things at stake in the relationship that it didn t want to risk.

By threatening to build a wall and leave Nafta and do any number of things to Mexico, Mr. Trump is changing this equation. If hostility is all he has to offer, the political cost for Mexico to be America s wall may prove too steep.

Continue reading the main story[20]


  1. ^ Continue reading the main story (
  2. ^ More articles about Donald J. Trump. (
  3. ^ contributes to United States economic growth (
  4. ^ As I noted in a column last month, (
  5. ^ new rules (
  6. ^ memo1 (
  7. ^ memo 2 (
  8. ^ Customs and Border Protection (
  9. ^ a provision designed to reduce costs for the American government by foisting them onto Mexico (
  10. ^ Continue reading the main story (
  11. ^ What might Mexico do in return (
  12. ^ Mexico returned 143,057 Central American migrants (
  13. ^ some experts suggest (
  14. ^ a relatively minor problem (
  15. ^ more Central Americans than Mexicans (
  16. ^ recognized the importance (
  17. ^ has given Mexico $24 million (
  18. ^ place enormous strains (
  19. ^ Continue reading the main story (
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