WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Mexico and the United States have made significant progress in discussions that could forestall US President Donald Trump from following through on his threat of imposing tariffs on all Mexican imports, senior officials from both countries said on Thursday (June 6).
Mr Trump, who has repeatedly demanded that Mexico end all illegal immigration into the US, has not yet given his approval of the direction of the talks, and no deal has been reached, the officials said.
But they said Mexico and Guatemala have agreed to consider significant changes in asylum laws across the region that would allow the US to reject requests for protection from many people fleeing persecution.
The arrangement being discussed would require migrants to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter. It would mean that people from Guatemala who want refuge in the US could be quickly sent to Mexico instead, while those fleeing El Salvador and Honduras who try to enter the US could be turned away and sent instead to Guatemala.
Mexican negotiators have also pledged to send 6,000 troops to Mexico's border with Guatemala, the entry point for a recent surge of migrants who have made their way through Mexico to the US border. The Washington Post first reported on Thursday the outlines of a possible deal between the US and Mexico.
A Mexican official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are continuing and private, cautioned that there had been no agreement reached on the asylum discussions.
If a deal is reached, Mexico would also allow an expansion of an American programme in which those seeking asylum in the US are required to wait in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. About 8,000 migrants are currently waiting in Mexico, but under the agreement, that number could grow.
Officials from both countries have been talking for several days about steps that Mexico could take to satisfy Mr Trump's angry demand for an end to illegal immigration into the US across the south-west border.
On Wednesday, Mexican offers to beef up enforcement to prevent illegal immigration had been declared insufficient by Vice-President Mike Pence, an administration official said. Mr Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the Mexicans to consider the asylum changes, as well.
By Thursday, Mexican officials had indicated a willingness to consider the asylum changes, the administration official said, though he cautioned that lawyers for the countries involved were still scheduled to meet throughout the day and into the evening to see if an agreement could be reached.
It remains unclear whether an agreement focused on beefed-up enforcement and changes to the region's asylum laws would reduce the flow of migrants enough for Mr Trump, who has repeatedly demanded that Mexico put a complete stop to illegal immigration into the US.
In a series of tweets and remarks over the past week, Mr Trump vowed to impose a series of escalating tariffs on Mexican imports on Monday unless the country's officials took actions that would end, in particular, the surge of migrants from Central America pressing to cross the border, something he has insisted the Mexicans could solve "in one day if they so desired".
That demand from Mr Trump loomed over Wednesday's talks between Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, Mr Pence and Mr Pompeo, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussions in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
But diplomats on both sides of the border and immigration experts say the President's demand for a total end to illegal immigration is fanciful thinking. While most agree that Mexico could step up enforcement and provide more humanitarian relief to migrants, they say there is nothing Mexico could do to completely stop all illegal immigration into the US.
"It shows a basic misunderstanding about the patterns of migration," said Mr Kevin Appleby, a veteran of Washington's immigration wars over two decades.
"The Mexican government could take some steps. But there are going to be ways that migrants get to our border regardless of what the Mexicans do."
Hoping to mollify Mr Trump, Mr Ebrard said during Wednesday's meeting that his government was willing to step up enforcement at the border between Mexico and Guatemala, where many of the Central American migrants begin their journey through Mexico to the US border.
He also told Mr Pence and Mr Pompeo that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico is committed to cracking down on transnational gangs that make money by regularly trafficking migrants through Mexico, according to the US official.
Mr Ebrard also promised that the Mexican government would offer asylum to thousands of Central American migrants who might otherwise seek protection in the US.
Diplomats for Mexico and the US met on Thursday at the State Department. But officials stressed that Mr Trump would be the one to decide whether the Mexican government was willing to do enough to escape the tariffs. The President is scheduled to return to Washington from Europe on Friday.