By Alexandra Alper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexico has told the United States time and again it is not ready to ink a deal forcing asylum seekers heading to the U.S. to first pursue safe haven in a Mexico, the Mexican ambassador to Washington said on Thursday, ahead of a Monday deadline.
Martha Barcena rejected the so-called “safe third country” agreement days before the clock runs out on a deal struck with U.S. President Donald Trump in June. Under that commitment, Mexico averted punitive tariffs by promising to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Central America by July 22. If it failed, Latin America’s second largest economy would have to accept safe-third-country status.
“We have said once and again that we are not ready to sign” any such agreement, Barcena said at an event in Washington, D.C.
Her comments come days before Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is slated to meet his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in Mexico City this weekend to discuss migration and trade.
Barcena also urged Washington to speed up its processing of asylum claims. A recent Trump administration policy requires people seeking protection in the United States to wait for their U.S. court dates in Mexican border towns, part of his hard line stance to halt migration.
“You cannot leave the people waiting in Mexico for three years,” she said.
Trump pledged to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico in his 2016 run for office, and has since fought with Congress and in the courts for funding to pay for the barrier.
On Monday, he touted weekend raids aimed at immigrants who had been ordered deported, as his administration seeks to deter a surge in Central American families seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing poverty and gang violence in their home countries.
The administration also announced sweeping new asylum rules on Monday that bar almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border by requiring them to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had travelled on the way to the United States.
On Thursday, Barcena described the move as “unilateral,” noting the Mexican government does not support it and interprets the rules as not sending migrants to Mexico but rather to their countries of origin.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Susan Heavey and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Bill Trott and Marguerita Choy)