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Will U.S.-Mexico deal reduce immigration? A report from 2 borders

President Trump announced Friday that he had struck a deal with Mexico both to stem the flow of immigrants from Mexico into the U.S. and to avoid levying tariffs on Mexican imports. Nick Schifrin talks to the NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz, reporting from El Paso, and James Frederick, a journalist based in Mexico City, about the details of the agreement and the outlook for meaningful change.

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  • John Yang:

    After 10 days of threats from President Trump to levy tariffs on Mexican products because of migration into the United States, Mr. Trump announced Friday night that he had struck a deal to both stem the movement of people and avoid opening another front in the trade war.

    But, as Nick Schifrin tells us, the details are important and what happens now is open for interpretation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    These are the images Mexico wants the U.S. to see, Mexican police detaining Honduran immigrants, preventing them from moving north to the U.S. Mexico vows to accelerate the deployment of its National Guard to cities and its southern border.

    On its northern border with the U.S., Mexico promises to accept more Central Americans who applied for U.S. asylum and provide them with better shelter, food, and education than they currently receive. And Mexico promises to better track Central Americans currently waiting in long lines at Mexican immigration offices, Mexico's Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said today:

  • Marcelo Ebrard (through translator):

    We are going to ask them to register, and we will tell them what the options are. Mexico cannot permit a flow of a million-and-a-half of people without knowing their names.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump told CNBC today the Mexican moves could work.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The people from Guatemala, the people from Honduras and El Salvador, in theory, if they do it right, they're not going to be able to get through. Nobody's going to be able to get through. And then they're also going to protect our southern border. So it should have a big impact.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The agreement was announced Friday night, after a week of meetings and a presidential threat of escalating tariffs. Today, President Trump said those tariffs scared Mexico into making concessions.

  • President Donald Trump:

    This is something the U.S. has been trying to get for over 20 years with Mexico. They have never been able to do it. As soon as I put tariffs on the table, it was done. It took two days.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Mexico had already promised to track Central Americans, deploy National Guardsmen, and accept asylum seekers.

    On ABC News, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke called the tariff threat counterproductive.

  • Beto O’Rourke:

    They might have accelerated the timetable, but, by and large, the president achieved nothing, except to jeopardize the most important trading relationship that United States of America has.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, this afternoon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said these agreements went further than Mexican promises made last year.

  • Mike Pompeo:

    The scale, the effort, the commitment here is very different from what we were able to achieve back in December.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    To talk about that debate and get a firsthand look at the impact of these agreements, we turn to our own Amna Nawaz, who's in El Paso, and journalist James Fredrick, who's based in Mexico City, and joins us from Tapachula, Mexico, Mexico's southern border, near Guatemala.

    James Fredrick, let me start with you.

    The steps that Mexico has promised, accelerating the deployment the National Guard, taking in more asylum seekers that are sent from the U.S., better registering people who are moving to the north, are those steps new?

  • James Fredrick:

    I wouldn't say they're new. What I would say they are is ramping up what Mexico has been doing for the last few years.

    This is not a brand-new thing for Mexico to be detaining and deporting migrants. But this definitely feels like a ramp-up. For the National Guard, what Mexico has said is that it's going to send it to the actual border with Guatemala, which, when I was there yesterday, was still totally open. Migrants crossed totally freely. And so that would be new, if Mexico enforced the border itself.

    Right now, all the enforcement it does mostly on highways, where it tries to catch migrants traveling in buses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, those highway checkpoints, you and I saw those when you and I working together down there two years ago. They were sporadic two years ago.

    Is there signs that Mexico is stepping up those checkpoints? And are there signs that Mexico is actually taking steps to really impact the structural problems of migration?

  • James Fredrick:

    You can definitely see more checkpoints nowadays.

    There's a lot more than when you and I were working together here, so you can feel that difference. Structurally, it's hard to tell if anything is really going to change here, because, as we have seen many times, when you put authorities out on highways, that just means that most migrants go and they walk in more rural areas.

    Many are getting back on the freight train called La Bestia to try to get north. So there's more enforcement, but it's not clear whether that's just going to push migrants further out or whether that is actually going to stop people from getting to the U.S.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amna, one of the major attempts by Mexico, they say they're going to try and take in more asylum seekers who actually get to the U.S. and then come back into Mexico, offer them food, education, shelter.

    This is, as we have been talking about, something Mexico's already promised. Is there any sign that you have seen that Mexico has been doing this and is capable of doing it?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So far, Nick, we visited a couple of shelters that cropped up to try to take in some of those migrants who have been sent back by the U.S. across legal ports of entry like this one behind me.

    Unequivocally, I would say the answer is no. Look, there's not much that the Mexican government has been doing so far. That program that sends people back from the U.S. has been in place for months here in El Paso. It's now going to be spread across the border, the southern border, but there just aren't the resources to be able to provide those kinds of services to those migrants.

    These towns on the Mexican side of the border, the border towns there. They're being similarly overwhelmed. Here, on the El Paso side, over in Juarez, they have got 5,000 people they didn't expect to be housing. The shelters that we visited asked the federal government for whatever help they can get.

    Some of them said, so far, over the last few months, they have only received two food shipments. That is it. That's the only assistance they have gotten from the Mexican government. Another place, they are reliant on the Mexican government to pay for their electricity bill. It hadn't been paid. The lights were off. They don't know when they're coming back on.

    So, so far, we have not seen the resources coming from the Mexican government in any kind of organized or regular way. I guess we will have to wait and see what happens next.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amna, as you said, you're talking to a lot of Central Americans who are moving their way north or trying to get to the U.S.

    Any sign that these agreements will change what they're thinking, perhaps even reduce the likelihood they're moving north?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So we talked to a couple of people in those shelters, right, folks who had either been told to wait their turn in line, meaning they tried to cross legally. They said, the U.S. port of entry is full, go back, put your name on a list, and come back. That list, by the way, runs several thousand long. People are waiting several months just for their first chance to go into the ports of entry.

    We also talked to people who've been sent back to Mexico, meaning they had crossed, they have been apprehended on the U.S. side, and then they were sent back and are awaiting a court date. Most people said they're going to wait as long as they need to.

    But immigration advocates we have talked to, folks who are tracking this kind of thing, particularly on the Mexican side of the border, tell us they worry that those families, a lot of them, because they are so desperate, because they don't have the means to spend months at a time in limbo waiting in Juarez and other border towns on the Mexican side, they worried those folks are going to be further incentivized to try to then cross illegally.

    And they say that they know there are a ton of smuggling networks, a lot of contacts who are waiting in those border towns to prey on those people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    James Fredrick, administration officials say there's actually more in this agreement than has been made public.

    The U.S. has been pushing for Mexico to become a safe third country, meaning they would have to take in all asylum seekers, regardless of where those people are from. Mexican officials have resisted that. Any sign that Mexico is now considering that option?

  • James Fredrick:

    Mexican officials have not said anything to that effect yet.

    I think the main thing to say about that is kind of echoing what Amna was saying up on the U.S.-Mexico border, is, here on the Guatemala-Mexico border, there are tons of people. Central Americans, as well as Africans and Haitians I have met here are trying to apply for asylum in Mexico.

    Mexico's refugee agency only has a budget of $1.2 million. And it expects to receive 60,000 asylum seekers this year. So, again, without the resources, it's just impossible that Mexico could really take in people who are fleeing their countries from persecution.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Amna, you have been to that border so often. You have talked to so many people on both sides. You know so much about this issue.

    The challenge that James just described, are you seeing a fundamental shift or any change at all in those trends?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Look, over time, we know that they are historically seasonal changes, right? As it gets hotter over the summer, those numbers could dip a bit.

    But for all the conversation around some of those pull factors, right — we talk about this a lot in Washington and in the U.S., that we need to change asylum laws, that other structural things need to change so people aren't incentivized to come — there isn't enough conversation around the push factors, those things that are forcing those people to leave, largely those three Central American countries, in the first place.

    So there's consensus among a lot of folks we talk to, even right here in El Paso. We have got officials here saying, unless we address some of those root causes, this isn't going to change any time soon.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Our own Amna Nawaz down on the border in El Paso, journalist James Fredrick joining us on Skype from the Guatemala-Mexico border, thanks very much to you both.

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