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The Trump administration is forcing Mexico to impose equally harsh immigration policies as Trump has been imposing on the US, which are actually illegal and endangering the lives of migrants and refugees from Central America, says Laura Carlsen

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GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. The image of a drowned Salvadoran father and daughter, who died trying to cross the Rio Grande River last Monday, brought worldwide attention to the issue of immigration and the desperate conditions under which migrants try to enter the United States. Then on Wednesday, the labor union that represents US asylum officers argued in court that Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols Program, which sends asylum seekers and migrants back to Mexico, is endangering their lives. The officers court filing says that the policy is forcing them to participate in the widespread violation of international and federal law, something they “did not sign up to do when they decided to become asylum and refugee officers for the United States government.”

The new asylum protocol, which has been in place since January, comes on top of a recent agreement with the government of Mexico to make sure that fewer Central American refugees make it to the US-Mexico border. Earlier this month, Trump had threatened to impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports, which would increase by 5% every month until Mexico slows the flow of Central American refugees to the United States. The tariffs were ultimately not imposed because Mexico agreed to deploy 6,000 troops to its southern border with Guatemala, and up to 15,000 troops to its border with the United States.

Joining me now to discuss Trump’s immigration policies from the perspective of Mexico is Laura Carlsen. Laura is Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, and a frequent contributor to The Real News. Thanks for joining us again, Laura.

LAURA CARLSEN Thank you, Greg.

GREG WILPERT So the agreement between Trump and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador states that Mexico has 45 days to stem the flow of migrants to the US. Tell us more about the measures that Mexico is planning to take to fulfill this promise.

LAURA CARLSEN Right. So. Remember that there were two parts to this agreement. There was first a joint declaration that didn’t mention these 45 days. That said that Mexico would send 6,000 National Guard members to the southern border to stem the flow from the Mexico-Guatemala border and that Mexico would agree to expand what’s called this “Remain in Mexico,” or the Migrant Protection Protocols that you mentioned, to expand that program on the northern border where asylum seekers in the United States returned to Mexico as they await their cases. This is precisely what the ACLU and the asylum officers are protesting against because indeed, it is a violation of international law and of asylum rights. Then later, we found out this was the secret agreement that Trump flashed when he was getting on an airplane. And that later, Ebrard, the Foreign Minister in Mexico, announced in detail to the Senate that Mexico has these 45 days in which to prove that it is reducing migrant flows or the question of what’s called the Safe Third Country goes back on the table.

Now, it’s worth taking a minute to describe what a Safe Third Country Agreement is. It’s really simple to say what it is, but the implementation is extremely complicated. There exist these types of agreements in the European Union, and between the United States and Canada, but there is no precedent for one somewhere like the United States and Mexico. Basically, what it says is that if you’re seeking international protection as an asylum seeker, you have to remain and apply for asylum in the first safe country that you arrive in. So obviously, coming out of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala— which is the vast majority of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants that are going through Mexico— the first country is Mexico. There’s also the potential of doing one in Guatemala for Hondurans, and they’re in talks to do that, which is completely crazy because Guatemala has no capacity to accept Honduran refugees.

What that means is that they no longer can apply for asylum in the United States. This is a violation because under international law, a refugee has the right to decide where they feel safe. And many of these people have family members and support networks in the United States, and many of them face direct threats in Mexico because many of the gangs that they’re fleeing from in Central America also exist and operate especially in those border cities, which are among the most violent cities in Mexico. And also, because as everyone knows, Mexico has an extreme problem with generalized violence because of turf wars between cartels and the impunity and lack of justice that exists here.

GREG WILPERT Now, apparently, it’s up to Trump really to decide whether or not Mexico complied after these 45 days. Now, what do you expect to happen when these days are up in mid-July?

LAURA CARLSEN It’s completely up to Trump. It’s actually written into the agreement that that decision is a discretion and there’s no benchmarks or anything. You can just say, yes or no. It’s going to be a political decision— the way this whole thing has been political and closely related to his electoral campaign strategy. First of all, we have the possibility that 45 days go by and Donald Trump decides that Mexico is complying. There are some indications that this may be the case. One is that there have been comments by both Trump and Mike Pence that Mexico is doing what the Democrats in Congress won’t do because they have a strategy of blaming the Democrats for the broken immigration system in the United States and all the problems that it’s causing.

There’s also the possibility that there will be a reduction evident in the flows— both because of what Mexico’s doing and because in the summer months with that fatal heat in the Arizona and other desert along the border, there tends to be a reduction in the number of migrants that pass anyway. If that happens, then Trump gets to avoid having a confrontation with his own party and the business sector— both of which have come out openly against the tariffs, and Mexico avoids having this Safe Third Country Agreement, which it actually opposes. On the other hand, Donald Trump wants to keep the conflict with Mexico and the issue of a migration crisis, which he himself has invented basically, because the numbers we’re seeing, they are not historical highs. There are no threats to national security of desperate families coming into the country over the southern border. He wants to keep that alive and presented it as an urgent national issue because he feels that it works for him electorally.

There’s some evidence that it’s not working as well as maybe it did in the first election, but this is clearly the strategy. He’s placed it at the center of his presidential campaign. If that’s the scenario, then he’s going to declare Mexico has not done enough, and move on to the next phase. The Trump administration really does want this disastrous Safe Third Country Agreement because then, it completely gets rid of these asylum seekers and that’s one of the big changes that we’ve seen here in Mexico. That people, instead of being single adult males who are going to the United States seeking work, in most cases, now we’re seeing this huge increase in families that are fleeing violence in all three countries in Central America. So he wants to be able to go to his racist, xenophobic base and say, look these people can’t even come close to our country anymore. I’m making America white again.

GREG WILPERT Now, President Lopez Obrador seems to be in a tricky situation. On the one hand, he’s bending over backwards under pressure from Trump and doing so doesn’t really look so good domestically. On the other hand, the tariff threats seem to be real despite, as you said, opposition from US corporations and some Republicans. So how is this deal and Trump’s threat playing out in Mexico at the moment?

LAURA CARLSEN There’s a lot of criticism of what’s happening in Mexico. At first, it seemed like maybe it was just an extension, as reported in The New York Times, of measures that already exist. The “Remain in Mexico” program started months ago. They’ve already been sending asylum seekers from the United States back to Mexico to await their hearings, which in some cases can take up to a year. And the militarization, that kind of a response to immigration had been going on for quite a while too. At least since 2014 with the unaccompanied minor crisis that we saw then, which was also a pretext for militarization and this crackdown model of dealing with migratory flows. There was nothing really new in there until we found out that Safe Third Country could be on the table, as well, and until we began to see the degree in which the Lopez Obrador government is militarizing the country in the name of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies.

The latest figure that came out from the Secretary of Defense is that there are 25,000 troops— including National Guard, armed forces, and police— that have been sent to both the borders and in the interior to crack down on migrants and in Mexico, undocumented migration is not a crime. It’s an administrative violation and should not be treated in this highly-criminalized manner, which is a direct copy of what’s happening in the United States. So, migrant rights organizations, migrant organizations, human rights organizations, the shelters themselves that are having to deal with what happens to human beings under these kinds of policies, are protesting loudly and also saying, this is not what we were promised. Because the Lopez Obrador government said there was going to be a new paradigm for migration, that it was going to be along the lines of the global pact, that it was going to prioritize human rights, including the right to mobility, and now we basically have US policies in Mexico territory.

GREG WILPERT Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Laura Carlsen, Director of the Americas Program at the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. Thanks again, Laura, for having joined us today.

LAURA CARLSEN Thank you. My pleasure.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Laura Carlsen is the Director of the Americas Program of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City. She focuses on US policy in Latin America and grassroots movements in the region.