Trump Says No Deal With Mexico Reached as Border Arrests Surge
WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday barreled closer to imposing tariffs on all Mexican imports as high-stakes negotiations at the White House failed to immediately resolve President Trump’s demand that Mexico prevent a surge of Central American migrants from flowing across the southwestern border.
Mr. Trump declared Wednesday evening on Twitter that “not nearly enough” progress had been made and warned that “if no agreement is reached, Tariffs at the 5% level will begin on Monday, with monthly increases as per schedule.”
Immigration discussions at the White House with representatives of Mexico have ended for the day. Progress is being made, but not nearly enough! Border arrests for May are at 133,000 because of Mexico & the Democrats in Congress refusing to budge on immigration reform. Further…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 5, 2019
New figures released Wednesday showed that illegal border crossings have risen to a seven-year high, underscoring the roots of the president’s rage. But political resistance to Mr. Trump’s tariff threat has also intensified, with skeptical Republican senators asking to hear directly from the president before he takes an action that could shake the economies of both countries.
Mr. Trump, traveling in Europe, had insisted earlier that he was not bluffing, but he also predicted that Mexico would make a deal to avert a series of escalating surcharges on its products. Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican foreign minister, met Wednesday afternoon for two hours with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, hoping to convince Mr. Trump’s top advisers that Mexico is working aggressively to protect the border.
In his tweet just after 6:30 p.m., the president said that talks with Mexico had ended for the day and would resume on Thursday.
There was no indication that Mr. Trump would be satisfied by anything short of direct evidence that Mexico had completely ended the flow of migration through its country. The president has repeatedly railed in private and public about what he considers to be a failure of Mexican authorities. He has set a deadline of June 10, saying he will use broad emergency powers to begin taxing all Mexican goods at 5 percent and to increase the tax to 25 percent by October if illegal crossings do not completely end — a feat that diplomats, politicians and immigration experts said is wildly unrealistic.
During the White House meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes, Mexican officials described for their counterparts the steps they have already taken to reduce the flow of migration, including deploying additional troops to the border with Guatemala and beefing up the fight against organized crime, according to a senior Trump administration official.
The official said the Mexicans appeared sincere, but Mr. Pence concluded that the efforts were insufficient because they would most likely reduce migration only at the margins, instead of the wholesale changes that Mr. Trump was looking for. Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo countered by urging the Mexicans to enter into a “third safe country” treaty in which Mexico would assume responsibility for granting asylum to the migrants, something the Mexicans have steadfastly opposed.
Top legal officials from Mexico are scheduled to meet on Thursday with Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, to discuss the treaty and other issues, the official said. Diplomats for both countries will meet at the State Department to continue the talks.
Wednesday’s announcement by Customs and Border Protection of a significant surge in border crossings was meant to put pressure on the Mexican government to meet Mr. Trump’s demands. More than 144,200 migrants were arrested and taken into custody along the southwestern border in May, a 32 percent increase from April and the highest monthly total in seven years. Most crossed the border illegally, while about 10 percent arrived without the proper documentation at ports of entry along the border.
“Look, the drugs that are coming in, the people that are coming in unchecked, they’re swamping our border,” Mr. Trump said during a meeting with the Irish prime minister in Shannon, Ireland. “Mexico can stop it. They have to stop it. Otherwise, we just won’t be able to do business. It’s a very simple thing.”
In his tweet, the president added that border arrests were so high “because of Mexico & the Democrats in Congress refusing to budge on immigration reform.”
Average per month: 81,588
Average per month
In a news conference on Wednesday at the Mexican Embassy, Mr. Ebrard said he was optimistic about a reaching a resolution before the tariffs go into effect Monday.
“We have the opportunity to share our point of view, explain why the Mexican position, that we are following regarding this issue, and tomorrow we are going to follow the talks,” he said.
He added that the dialogue focused on Mexico’s proposals on migration, rather than the tariffs.
While Mr. Trump insists he is committed to imposing tariffs, the president faces intense opposition not only from Democrats, but also from business executives, economists and members of his own party, who say tariffs are the wrong approach to dealing with immigration issues. Republican senators have been mobilizing to prevent the White House from moving ahead with tariffs, warning Mr. Trump that they are almost uniformly opposed to his plans to tax Mexican imports.
At a lunchtime briefing on Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, told administration lawyers that Republican senators needed to hear directly from Mr. Trump before he slapped tariffs on Mexico, according to two Republican officials familiar with the discussion.
In the closed-door lunch off the Senate floor, several Republicans complained bitterly about the tariffs, arguing they would harm their constituents and the economy while doing nothing to improve the immigration problems at the border. Many of them were irritated that the discussion about a major policy move that could take effect within days was unfolding at a time when the president was abroad, and that the administration sent two lower-level lawyers who could not answer basic questions about the tariffs to Capitol Hill to brief them.
Mr. McConnell asked the lawyers when the tariffs would go into effect. When they answered June 10, Mr. McConnell replied, “O.K., Monday,” and said Republican senators would need to hear from the president before then. Mr. Trump is scheduled to return from his European trip on Friday.
Across the globe, world leaders are trying to take steps to mollify Mr. Trump. In recent days, Guatemalan officials signed a cooperation agreement with United States officials to deploy about 80 Border Patrol agents and Department of Homeland Security investigators to Guatemala to advise on screening families and children crossing the border. The authorities will also help build out interior checkpoints.
In an apparent show of force meant to prove to Mr. Trump that they were working on the problem, hundreds of Guatemalan police officers and homeland security agents conducted raids last week throughout the country on those suspected of human smuggling. And on Wednesday, the nation’s interior minister said that the country was looking into revising an agreement that allows for the free movement of its Central American neighbors.
In the week since Mr. Trump announced his tariff threat on Twitter, administration officials have said the Mexican government must secure its own border with Guatemala, through which many migrants travel on their way to the United States. They have demanded that Mexican officials crack down on transnational gangs that facilitate migrant travel. And they have insisted that Mexico agree to take in all of the asylum seekers who would otherwise claim refuge in the United States.
But officials have provided few other specifics about how Mexico could meet those goals quickly enough to stave off Mr. Trump’s anger. Mexico has already tried to secure its own southern border and has long fought transnational gangs.
In the past six months, the Mexican government has deported more than 80,500 migrants back to their homes in Central America and elsewhere, according to government data. During the same period, Mexican authorities detained about 400 people accused of trafficking migrants. And nearly 25,000 migrants applied for refuge in Mexico in the first five months of 2019.
“The Mexican government could interdict more migrants for sure, but they can’t just flip a switch and turn off the flow,” said Kevin Appleby, a veteran expert on migration.
In Mexico, there is popular support for treating Central American migrants humanely, and many Mexicans do not want to see President Andrés Manuel López Obrador bow to the wishes of his counterpart in the United States.
“He’s between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t want to be seen as being a toady to the United States,” said Doug Massey, a professor of sociology at Princeton University and a director of the Mexican Migration Project. “He doesn’t want to violate the human rights of Central Americans, who after all are simply escaping terrible conditions.”
Carlos Heredia, a professor at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas in Mexico City, said Tuesday that whatever action Mexico takes to prevent migration into the United States, it was unlikely to satisfy the president.
“If there is any logic to the way that President Trump handles policy, it’s that he likes conflict,” Mr. Heredia said. “I don’t think that there is a way to please Trump.”
Others said that it would take time for Mexico to make the changes the Trump administration was requesting.
“This is not going to happen in seven days,” said Arturo Sarukhan, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States. “You can’t enforce your way out of a migration crisis.”
Mr. Trump’s tariff threat is driven largely by the significant increase in the number of migrants crossing illegally at the border. Having vowed during his campaign to stop illegal immigration, the president views the increasing flow of migrants as a personal affront and a threat to his political brand.
More than 100,000 of those arrested in May were unaccompanied children or migrants traveling as a family when they arrived at the border, officials said. In March 2017, shortly after Mr. Trump took office, that number was about 2,000, according to government records.
“We are at a full blown emergency,” said John Sanders, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. “I cannot say this stronger: the system is broken.”
Mr. Trump has pushed ahead with the threat against Mexico despite the concerns of some of his advisers, who warned that it might derail the effort to finalize his North American trade deal. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who negotiated some of the deal’s provisions with Mexico, had raised concerns about the potential impact on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, as had Mr. Lighthizer and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.
But they were opposed by aides like Peter Navarro and Stephen Miller, a chief policy adviser, and they were overruled by the president, who argued that tariffs had previously worked to pressure the Mexicans on immigration.
Mr. Trump has made heavy use of tariffs on trading partners from China to Europe, but imposing tariffs on Mexico, the United States’ largest trading partner, would be a significant escalation in the president’s trade war. Mexico is a key supplier of products like fresh tomatoes and grapes; bluejeans; televisions; medical devices; and automobiles. Many companies have created supply chains that snake back and forth across the border — meaning some companies could be forced to pay tariffs multiple times as their products travel from farms to factories to consumers.
Businesses are also worried that the president’s move risks derailing what would be his signature trade achievement: passing the newly negotiated North American trade agreement.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was signed last year, but it still needs to be ratified by legislators in all three countries. Mexico submitted the text to its Senate hours before Mr. Trump’s threat. But Mexican officials are unlikely to move forward with that vote with the threat of tariffs hanging over them.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in an interview on Wednesday with Bloomberg News, said he was “concerned and anxious” the tariffs would interfere with ratification of U.S.M.C.A. But he added he was also hopeful that tariffs would not go into effect.
“I’m hoping that we can find some reasonable, actionable items that Mexico can achieve that would again ameliorate the president’s actions here,” Mr. Perdue said.