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Can tariffs and threats stem migration from Central America?

Mexican officials are in Washington D.C. preparing for talks later this week after the President Trump threatened to impose 5 percent tariffs if Mexico does not stem migration from Central America. On Sunday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that the president was “dead serious”. Washington Post reporter Kevin Sieff discusses developments from Mexico City.

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  • Megan Thompson:

    For more on Mexico's reaction to the Trump terror threat Kevin Sieff, Latin America correspondent for The Washington Post joins us now via Skype from Mexico City.

    So I just want to rewind back a little bit. I mean it's not like Mexico hasn't been doing anything on this issue. Can you just tell us a little bit about what that country has done in the last few years to stem the flow of migrants over its borders?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    I mean for several years Mexico has been deporting large numbers of Central Americans. Those deportations continue today. Over the last four months Mexico has deported more than 40,000 Central Americans.

    Under the current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador those policies have actually been sort of emboldened in a way I think in large part in response to the threats that we've seen from the Trump administration.

  • Megan Thompson:

    This morning Mick Mulvaney said that you know the first thing that he wants to see is Mexico strengthening security at its border with Guatemala.

  • Kevin Sieff:

    Yeah I mean the reality is that the Guatemala-Mexico border is incredibly porous, has always been incredibly porous. And so I know the U.S., especially in the last few days has spoken about the need to secure the Guatemala-Mexico border.

    I mean doing so would be a multi-year multi-billion dollar effort. As of now there's very little infrastructure on that border.

  • Megan Thompson:

    ther things that have been mentioned are making Mexico a place where asylum seekers could apply for asylum there or also cracking down on some of the smuggling and smugglers. What would those things look like?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    The Trump administration basically from the beginning has proposed this idea Central Americans who are on their way through Mexico to apply for asylum in the U.S., could instead apply for asylum in Mexico. I mean there are a lot of problems with that proposal.

    One is that Mexico remains enormously violent country. I mean there are parts of Mexico that are as violent more violent than the places that the migrants are fleeing in Central America. The other question is what kind of social services could Mexico provide to asylum seekers? Is there enough funding here for providing for asylum seekers to eat? Where would they live?

    There are a lot of questions about that I would put security at the very top of that list though.

  • Megan Thompson:

    The Trump administration also has plans to send D.H.S agents down to the Guatemala-Mexico border?

  • Kevin Sieff:

    Because the Trump administration has been pressuring not just Mexico but also Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to stop migration, there are other conversations happening with Mexico right now and that mostly is about the threat of tariffs. But they're also parallel conversations being had with the other, with the Central American countries.

    So in Guatemala, what that has led to is disagreement with between D.H.S. and the government of Guatemala to allow dozens of D.H.S. agents to basically support, advise, train Guatemalan officials to stop migration, to secure the country's northern border. These are agents that would mostly be there in a sort of advisory role. They wouldn't be patrolling the border necessarily so it gives Guatemala the ability to say, listen, we are doing something, we are open to accepting your assistance.

    But in terms of what kind of a practical difference it's going to make?

    I mean I don't think we're going to suddenly see a huge shift in the migration trends from Guatemala because of this. I mean, just a few weeks ago, President Trump directed the end of U.S. aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, right. So for a very long time there was a consensus in the foreign policy establishment in the U.S. and pretty much everywhere in Latin America that U.S. assistance was something that could in the long run ultimately lead to a decrease in migration.

    Instead the Trump administration's position has been, we're going to stop aid, we're going to increase tariffs as punishment. I mean most people who study migration, most economists would tell you that probably is going to have the opposite impact on migration as the intended one. But we'll see.

  • Megan Thompson:

    All right Kevin Sieff from the Washington Post, thank you so much for joining us.

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