The Trump administration on Thursday night welcomed a Mexican government plan to work with the United Nations refugee agency to deal with a controversial caravan of mostly Honduran migrants — fleeing poverty and violence — before they can make their way to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The caravan of migrants, who number anywhere between 1,500 to 4,000 people, has angered President Donald Trump. This week, he threatened the governments in Central America and Mexico if they failed to deal with the situation.
A top Mexican official said Thursday night that his government will ask the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to help identify “legitimate” asylum claims from the migrants who are part of the caravan making its way through his country’s southern border en route to the U.S.
Under the Mexican government’s plan, those migrants whose asylum claims get rejected would be immediately repatriated to Honduras and other countries, Gerónimo Gutiérrez, the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., told Fox News’ “Special Report” in an interview.
“We want to make sure that those claims are legitimate,” he said, noting a handful of migrants had already applied for asylum in Mexico.
“We obviously are sensitive to the humanitarian situation that we encounter,” said Gutiérrez. “But we have also made very clear that there is no legal ground on which Mexico can issue a permit by which people can just go through Mexico towards the United States.”
“Mexico is in favor of legal, safe and orderly migration,” he added. “And the step we took today, it’s extremely important.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is visiting Mexico on Friday, applauded the move by Mexican government officials.
“We welcome the Government of Mexico’s statement that they will seek cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to address immigration issues in the region, including the influx of people arriving in Mexico,” he said in a statement. “The United States stands ready to assist the Government of Mexico and UNHCR in this effort.”
Mexico’s decision to seek UN assistance came following a barrage of tweets from Trump over the past two days in which he railed against Democrats in Congress and the governments of Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, threatening to cut off U.S. aid to the Central American countries and close the southern border.
“The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!” he wrote in one of his tweets.
In a separate tweet, Trump later thanked Mexico for sending law enforcement officers to its southern border to intercept the migrant caravan, linking to a short video clip of dozens of Mexican federal police disembarking from a plane.
Trump tweeted his praise shortly before Thursday night’s campaign rally in Montana, where he blasted Democrats before next month’s midterm elections.
“They wanted that caravan,” Trump said of Democrats. “It’s going to be an election of the caravan.”
Trump is ramping up his rhetoric on immigration as he begins a three-day campaign swing of western states where border security has become a top issue in the upcoming election.
In his interview with Fox News, Mexico’s Gutiérrez criticized organizers of the migrant caravan.
“It’s not in the interest of anybody to have those people make that trip,” he said. “They’re frequently tricked by human smuggling organizations.”
He also said the Mexican government had “evidence that this caravan is also very much politically motivated,” but he did not elaborate.
He acknowledged, however, the need for Mexico and the U.S. to continue aiding Central American countries, while enforcing its own immigration laws.
“We need to work in development and help those countries, and we’re doing [it]. And we also need to make sure that laws are enforced, and that’s also what we’re doing.”
The Honduran migrant group started last Friday with about 160 people who banded together in the hopes that their numbers would protect them from robbers and other dangers facing them on their journey, according to The Associated Press. Organizers said they were fleeing north from a corrupt Honduran government, along with rampant poverty and violence.
According to the World Bank, 66 percent of Hondurans live in poverty and about one out of five Hondurans in rural areas live on less than $1.90 a day.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, slammed the Trump administration for backing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s “corrupt government” and “painting a picture of this migrant caravan as a threat to our national security instead of the desperate group of refugees that they are.”
“The migrant caravan struggling toward our border is a direct result of Juan Orlando Hernandez’s anti-democratic regime,” she said in a statement on Thursday night. “We must support these refugees and stop turning a blind eye to Hernandez’s repression and violence.”