President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexican goods starting next week may or may not get Mexico to be more cooperative in preventing third-country “asylum-seekers” from passing through on the way to our border. I’m not too concerned about the costs that such a tariff would impose on U.S. businesses and consumers (which would be real), because the costs would be worth it if the tactic were actually to work. I’m skeptical it will, since Mexico always has a chip on its shoulder with regard to us. But recent signs suggest I might be pleasantly surprised. Here’s hoping.
Perhaps more important than the means, however, are the desired ends. During a call with reporterslast week, acting DHS secretary Kevin McAleenan laid out three specific steps the administration wants Mexico to take. First is tightening security on Mexico’s border with Guatemala and chokepoints in southern Mexico (such as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec). Second is targeting the smuggling organizations; as McAleenan said, “The logistical effort to move 100,000 people through a country every four weeks is immense. This is noticeable.”
Mexico might well agree to these two demands, potentially averting the tariffs. But the third demand is the most consequential, and the most difficult. As McAleenan put it, “We need to be able to protect people in the first safe country they arrive in — really, all through the hemisphere, but certainly with our partner to the south.” In other words, the administration wants Mexico to sign a “safe third country” agreement, whereby foreigners who pass through Mexico would not be permitted even to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, and Mexico would agree to take them back, because if they were genuinely fleeing persecution, they should have applied in the first safe country they reached. As Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation wrote last fall about one of the migrant caravans, “ignoring Mexico’s asylum process is prima facie evidence that a claim for asylum in the U.S. is bogus.”
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Of course, Mexico has no intention whatsoever of giving asylum to millions of foreigners. But how to avoid that while maintaining its more “generous” standards for asylum — on paper — compared to the pinched and miserly U.S.? By making sure asylum seekers keep moving north, whether they’re from Central America or from farther afield and using Central America as a staging point. . . .