Under fire at home and from Trump, Mexico races to roll out migration deal

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexico is racing to implement its deal with the United States to curb migration, the country's foreign ministry said Friday before briefing skeptical lawmakers demanding details on the "secret agreement" President Donald Trump keeps flaunting.

Mexico got a 45-day reprieve from Trump's tariffs under last Friday's deal, and is keen to show Washington it is doing everything it can to stem what Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard called "one of the largest migrant flows in the world": Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence to seek asylum in the US.

But Ebrard and leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also have to convince the Mexican people and Congress they did not get shafted in negotiations with the Trump administration.

Ebrard faced a likely grilling as he appeared before the Mexican legislature, where lawmakers want him to explain what exactly is in the mysterious document that Trump waved around in front of reporters this week, saying "That's the agreement that everybody says I don't have."

"I'm going to let Mexico do the announcement," Trump added, after facing criticism at home suggesting there was little new in the migration deal.

- Trump happy, for now -

Ebrard, who led the Mexican negotiating team in Washington, denies there is any "secret deal."

But he admits Mexico has agreed to reopen discussions on Trump's demand for a "safe third country agreement" -- in which migrants entering Mexican territory would have to seek asylum there rather than the US -- if Washington deems its progress insufficient after 45 days.

In Washington, Trump appeared content to play nice with Mexico -- for now.

"Big difference in the border between now and this time last week. Mexico has been doing a terrific job. Hey, 6,000 soldiers, and if it doesn't work out, then we go back to very strong measures," he said on Fox News.

"The stoppage is unbelievable and I got reports yesterday, it's like day and night."

He added, however, that if Mexico did not address the issue to his satisfaction, he would make it implement a safe third country agreement.

- Angry senators -

Any such deal would have to go through Mexico's Senate -- and lawmakers there look ready for a fight.

"The Mexican government has been revealing the extent of this deal in dribs and drabs. They say they can't tell us anything more for strategic reasons," said opposition lawmaker Gustavo Madero of the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

He accused the Lopez Obrador administration of "prostrating (Mexico) before the United States."

"Under no circumstances can the Mexican state commit to any international agreement without the Senate's approval. If that's their intention, we're going to take them to court," said a fellow party member, Senator Damian Zepeda.

The discontent extends to Lopez Obrador's own party, Morena, which holds majorities in both houses of Congress.

"They want to turn our country into a cage" for migrants, said the speaker of the lower house, Porfirio Munoz Ledo.

In a warning sign for Lopez Obrador, senators froze committee proceedings Wednesday on ratifying the USMCA, the country's new and vitally important trade agreement with the US and Canada, saying they wanted to question Ebrard on the migration deal first.

Tension has only mounted amid evasive answers from Ebrard to questions about what happens if Trump decides Mexico has not done enough to curb migration after 45 days.

"We don't know whom to believe, because Ebrard doesn't give us the details and Trump isn't very trustworthy. It's also clear he's using Mexico as part of his re-election campaign," political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo told AFP.

- No 46th day -

For now, Ebrard says he is focused on making sure Mexico dramatically curbs the northward flow of migrants before the deadline.

He told a press conference Mexico will complete its promised deployment of 6,000 National Guardsmen to its southern border by Tuesday, and that 825 additional immigration officers will start work this weekend.