President Donald Trump’s border chief argued Monday that Mexico hasn’t done enough to restrict the flow of migrants to the United States.
Speaking at a White House briefing, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said a dramatic drop in border arrests following a June counter-migration deal between both countries did not represent sufficient progress.
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Border arrests — a metric used to gauge illegal crossings — fell to roughly 51,000 in August, a more than 60 percent decrease from 133,000 arrests in May, which was the peak of the recent surge. POLITICO first reported the drop last week, and CBP posted the official statistics Monday.
Morgan said Mexico has taken “meaningful and unprecedented steps” to stop migrants passing through its country, “but they need to do more.”
The border chief added that the U.S. continues to discuss a possible safe third-country asylum deal with Mexico — a step the Mexican government thus far has rejected. Morgan said it was in the “best interests” of migrants to apply for asylum in the first nation where it’s possible, though advocates contend asylum seekers could be vulnerable in Mexico.
The Trump administration’s latest challenge to Mexico comes before a planned meeting Tuesday between top U.S. and Mexican officials to discuss the efficacy of efforts to reduce migrant traffic.
Border arrests soared in the spring to the highest levels in more than a decade, a surge fueled by record numbers of families trekking north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Trump responded by threatening to hammer Mexican goods with escalating tariffs — a challenge to the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a populist who took office in December, that sent Mexican officials rushing to Washington in June.
The two countries brokered a deal that required Mexico to deploy thousands of troops from its newly formed National Guard to intercept migrants. At the same time, the Trump administration moved to implement its “remain in Mexico” program across the entire southwest border. The initiative forces certain non-Mexican asylum seekers to wait in that country pending the resolution of their asylum cases.
Border arrests plummeted in the months that followed — a trend experts attributed to the new counter-migration measures.
Mexico says it has deployed 25,000 guard members to its northern and southern borders, although they deal with a wider range of issues than immigration crimes.
Morgan confirmed Monday that more than 42,000 non-Mexican migrants have been sent to Mexico under the “remain in Mexico“ program, which is formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, a figure first reported by POLITICO on Sunday.
Morgan dodged a question about possible violence that asylum seekers could face while waiting in Mexico.
“The cartels are exploiting them from Day 1,” he said.
Morgan touted the administration’s progress building 65 miles of what he called “new wall,” even though the structures actually replaced existing miles of border barriers. Overall, Morgan said the administration aims to build up to 500 miles of wall before the end of 2020.
Asked whether the Trump administration has abandoned the idea that Mexico will pay for the border wall, Morgan said, “I don’t care. That’s political. That’s for politicians to decide.”