Mexico’s government vowed Wednesday to resist President Trump’s efforts to force better cooperation in stopping illegal immigration, drawing lines in the sand just before high-profile meetings with the U.S. secretary of state and homeland security secretary.
Back in the U.S., meanwhile, one prominent congressman reported a surge in legal immigrants applying for citizenship, saying the line of people asking for help stretched out his door at his Chicago office, spurred by fears of maltreatment at the hands of Homeland Security Department agents.
Both sides were reacting to crackdown policies issued Tuesday by Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly that freed agents to more strictly enforce immigration laws within the nation’s interior while putting pressure on Mexico to try to head off illegal immigrants making their way through that country en route to the U.S.
In addition to soaking Mexico for the costs of a border wall, the plans call for sending illegal immigrants caught at the border back to Mexico — even if they aren’t Mexican — to await the outcomes of their immigration cases.
“I want to say clearly and emphatically that the government of Mexico and the Mexican people do not have to accept provisions that one government unilaterally wants to impose on the other,” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told reporters in Mexico City, just ahead of meetings with Mr. Kelly and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
“We will not accept it, because there’s no reason why we should, and because it is not in the interests of Mexico,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Even as Mexican officials talked tough, they prepared for what could be a massive influx of Mexicans who are either kicked out of the country or flee the U.S.
The Social Development Ministry has for years had a program that organized Mexicans who lived and worked outside their country and helped the communities left behind. Officials said Wednesday that they would work on reforms to “Programa 3 x 1 para Migrantes,” as it’s known, to prepare for the return of many of those migrants.
Mexico used to account for the vast majority of illegal immigrants entering the U.S., but that has tapered off as the Mexican economy has improved and as American officials began to impose stiffer consequences on migrants, raising the risks associated with trying to sneak in.
Now, the bigger problem is a surge of non-Mexicans from the Western Hemisphere who enter Mexico then travel north to reach the U.S.
Mexico’s role in facilitating their journey has long been a source of controversy between the two countries.
Last year, American officials pointed to a surge in Haitians, thousands of whom had been living in Brazil and Chile but started heading north, saying they were enticed by lax Obama administration policies.
Mexico was stopping the migrants at its southern border, then giving them temporary transit visas that lasted just long enough for them to make their way to the U.S. border, where they attempted to enter.
The White House insisted Wednesday that relations with Mexico remain strong.
“We have a very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and Mexican officials. I think they would echo that same sentiment,” press secretary Sean Spicer said. “I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now, and I think there’s an unbelievable and robust dialogue between the two nations.”
Mr. Spicer also waved aside Mexico’s vow to resist complying with the new U.S. policy.
“I feel very confident that any country who has a citizen that comes into this country and that we send back, will make sure that they comply with this,” he said.
Before visiting Mexico, Mr. Kelly was in Guatemala early Wednesday to talk with President Jimmy Morales about the new immigration plans and to observe a flight of deportees from the U.S.
Guatemala has become the biggest source for unaccompanied children sneaking into the U.S. and is second to El Salvador when it comes to families attempting to sneak in together.
Mr. Kelly, according to The Associated Press, urged those considering making the perilous journey “not to do it.”
He also took pains to try to counter the feverish reactions in the U.S. from immigrant rights groups that have predicted “mass deportations” under Mr. Trump.
“There will be no mass roundups,” the secretary insisted, though he said illegal immigrants who are caught will be sent back home “much quicker” than they were under the Obama administration.
His words were unlikely to tamp down the furor fueled by immigrant advocates and Spanish-language media, which are warning of raids and are holding clinics to advise illegal immigrants of their rights.
Immigrants — both legal and illegal — were vowing to resist.
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat and a leader of the movement to legalize illegal immigrants, said his office was swamped Wednesday with legal immigrants seeking help in signing up for citizenship.
“Legal, long-term immigrants are seeking information on how they protect themselves and their loved ones,” the congressman said.
“In Chicago and in communities across the country, Americans are also organizing to undermine the deportation force coming to break up families,” he said. “We cannot sit by as our government comes for parents, puts children in foster care and takes a meat ax to the trust built up over years between the police and the communities they protect and serve.”
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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