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Trump drops Mexico tariffs in exchange for 'unprecedented' border surge

U.S. to expand 'Migrant Protection Protocols' and return asylum-seekers to Mexico

President Donald Trump backed away Friday evening from his threat to impose immediate tariffs on Mexican imports, after Mexico agreed to "curb irregular migration" and deploy troops to its southern border.

U.S. authorities will immediately begin sending migrants requesting asylum here back to Mexico to await the outcome of their cases as the "Return to Mexico" program is expanded along the border, officials said.

Trump had declared he would impose 5 percent tariffs next week, with a spike of up to 25 percent fees on goods crossing the border into the United States possible in the coming months.

Instead, the taxes on imports will be "hereby indefinitely suspended," Trump tweeted in advance of the State Department releasing the brief text of the agreement.

'Reprieve' on Trump's tariff just a calm before border storms (What the Devil)

"Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to.... stem the tide of Migration through Mexico, and to our Southern Border. This is being done to greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States," the Republican president said.

The bi-lateral statement didn't include many details, but said "Mexico will take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration, to include the deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border."

"Mexico is also taking decisive action to dismantle human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as their illicit financial and transportation networks," the agreement said.

Mexico's new National Guard is still in its organizational stages, having only been authorized by that country's Congress at the end of February. It consists of about 6,000 troops at this point.

U.S. to send back those claiming asylum

The Trump administration "will immediately expand the implementation of the existing Migrant Protection Protocols" along the entire southern border, the joint statement said.

The "Remain in Mexico" policy has been challenged in the courts, but has been in effect in a limited way in Southern California and near El Paso, Texas.

With its announced expansion, migrants crossing from Mexico to seek asylum "will be rapidly returned to Mexico where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims."

From the statement:

In response, Mexico will authorize the entrance of all of those individuals for humanitarian reasons, in compliance with its international obligations, while they await the adjudication of their asylum claims. Mexico will also offer jobs, healthcare and education according to its principles.

The United States commits to work to accelerate the adjudication of asylum claims and to conclude removal proceedings as expeditiously as possible.

Originally called Remain in Mexico, or "Return to Territory," the Trump administration's plan would send asylum seekers back to Mexico in an attempt to "reduce illegal migration by removing one of the key incentives that encourages people from taking the dangerous journey to the United States in the first place," former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in December. "'Catch and release’ will be replaced with ‘catch and return,'" she claimed.

Mexican president claims victory

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador greeted the dropping of the tariff threat as enthusiastically as Trump announced it, saying that it was due to "the support of all Mexicans."

The Mexican leader announced that he would still hold a rally on Saturday in the border city of Tijuana. Now a celebration, the event had been scheduled to protest the imposition of tariffs.

Republican politicians express relief

Republican allies of the president and business leaders — many of whom had blasted Trump's tariff threat — let out sighs of relief on the news Friday.

Sand & fury: Arizonans just extras in Trump's distracting, go-nowhere tariff drama (What the Devil won't tell you)

"It's good to see the administration and Mexico come together to prevent harmful tariffs and do what Congress has not: confront the massive immigration crisis taking place on our Southern border," said U.S Sen. Martha McSally in an emailed statement. "It is still incumbent upon Congress to act, not only to close gaps in our immigration law that encourages this illegal activity, but also to provide much needed funding to address the humanitarian and security crisis that is overwhelming communities in Arizona and others states on the U.S.-Mexico border."

Last week, McSally had said, "I do not support these types of tariffs, which will harm our economy and be passed onto Arizona small businesses and families."

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer had called the tariff "baffling" and a "terrible idea" last week.

Friday, he said ""This is the right outcome, and we welcome it. We know that tariffs on imports from Mexico were going to wallop the U.S. economy, which is why the business community was so united in its opposition to them."

Trump pushes tariff of up to 25 percent

Last Thursday, the president said that beginning on June 10, 2019, the United States will impose a five-percent tariff on all goods imported from Mexico, and if the "illegal migration crisis" is not alleviated "through effective actions taken by Mexico," the U.S. will ratchet up the tariff to 10 percent on July 1, 2019, raising the tax on U.S. goods another five percent for each month until October 1, 2019 when the tariff will "permanently remain" at the 25 percent level "until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory."

Trump said he has the authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to impose tariffs starting at 5 percent on June 10 and rising 5 percent on the first of every month until they reach 25 percent. He said the tariffs would stay in place until the “immigration crisis is alleviated,” a benchmark to be “determined in our sole discretion and judgment.”

Mexico remains the third-largest trading partner with the United States, and Arizona's largest trading partner.

The United States imported more than $346.5 billion Mexican goods including cars, produce, and consumer goods last year, according to the U.S. Trade Representative, and around $9 billion in goods crossed into Arizona last year.

Arizona lawmakers, business officials and experts last week blasted Trump's threat to impose a tariff, calling his plan everything from “terribly damaging” to “unhinged.”

Trump's threat came as an influx of Central American migrants, almost two-thirds of whom are families traveling with children, or children traveling without parents or guardians, have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum from violence and poverty primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. 

The increasing numbers of people have strained the resources of Border Patrol as especially large groups of people have come to the United States legally seeking asylum under both U.S. and international law. 

In the last month, nearly 99,000 people were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents, and another 10,000 were declared "inadmissible" by Customs officers at U.S. border crossings. 

This was the largest number of people in a single month since April 2007, though it comes at a time when there are another 4,514 agents on staff.

Trump announced the tariffs last Thursday – one day after Border Patrol agents apprehended a group of 1,036 immigrants crossing the border near El Paso – to pressure Mexico to “dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of illegal aliens crossing its territory into the United States.”

But critics said the move would do little to slow the influx of immigrants while doing a lot to harm U.S. businesses and consumers.

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“Tariffs are not the way to handle the problems with immigration that we are seeing at the border,” said George Hammond, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management.

Arizona could be especially hard hit: Hammond’s center recently reported that the state exported almost $7.65 billion in goods to Mexico in 2018 and imported more than $9 billion from that country.

“Let’s just do simple math,” said the Chamber of Commerce's Hamer. “A 5 percent tariff, that’s a tax of $450 million – and the president has threatened to ratchet this up to 25 percent. That’s billions of dollars. So, consumers are going to feel this.”

“Everyone is going to feel the pain, because tariffs are a polite way to say taxes,” said Hamer. He earlier called the threat of tariffs “a prescription for a self-induced economic slowdown” that “will only inflict harm on the U.S. consumer.”

'Dangerous overcrowding' in El Paso center

Last week, the Inspector General's office at Homeland Security announced after unannounced spot inspections in the El Paso Sector, the government watchdog found "dangerous overcrowding" at the El Paso Del Norte Processing Center, and that a station designed to hold around 125 people was instead holding 750 to 900 people on site, and that detainees were "standing on toilets to gain breathing space." 

"Although CBP headquarters management has been aware of the situation at [the processing center] for months and detailed staff to assist with custody management, DHS has not identified a process to alleviate issues with overcrowding," the OIG said. 

Nonetheless, after promising to stop illegal immigration, the White House has issued a salvo of orders or potential orders this year, including an attempt to pull nearly $8.1 billion from the Defense Department to build border barriers even after Congress denied that request during a lengthy shutdown of the federal government, a plan to build walls in nature reserves in Arizona and Texas, as well as changes to asylum law. Many of these plans have been thwarted by lawsuits.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association recommended that rather than implementing a tariff, the U.S. send more trained asylum officers to the border, allow asylum officers to conduct "full asylum adjudications" at the border, allow immigration courts to manage their own caseloads, and ultimately move the immigration court system out from under the Justice Department and into the judicial branch, use "alternatives-to-detention" programs, set up a process for people to seek asylum at home rather than "traveling thousands of miles on a dangerous journey," and "invest resources" to improve conditions in Central America.

Mexico also dealing with migrant influx

Trump's confrontation with Mexico came as a plan to mitigate migration from three countries in Central America appears to be collapsing. The Alliance Plan for Prosperity of the Northern Triangle of Central America, or PAPTN, was created in 2014 to promote development. However, according to data from the National Institute of Migration, around 19,000 Guatemalans deported from the U.S. and 12,345 Guatemalans deported from Mexico, came from 20 of the 50 regions "prioritized" by PAPTN, according to Prensa Libre.

And, Mexico has nearly doubled its own deportations, sending 25,069 Central Americans back to their home countries, including 3,289 minors, in January and February, reported PRI.

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DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann

U.S.-Mexico Joint Declaration

The full text of the agreement, as released by the U.S. State Department on Friday night:

The United States and Mexico met this week to address the shared challenges of irregular migration, to include the entry of migrants into the United States in violation of U.S. law. Given the dramatic increase in migrants moving from Central America through Mexico to the United States, both countries recognize the vital importance of rapidly resolving the humanitarian emergency and security situation. The Governments of the United States and Mexico will work together to immediately implement a durable solution.

As a result of these discussions, the United States and Mexico commit to:

Mexican Enforcement Surge

Mexico will take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration, to include the deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border. Mexico is also taking decisive action to dismantle human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as their illicit financial and transportation networks. Additionally, the United States and Mexico commit to strengthen bilateral cooperation, including information sharing and coordinated actions to better protect and secure our common border.

Migrant Protection Protocols

The United States will immediately expand the implementation of the existing Migrant Protection Protocols across its entire Southern Border. This means that those crossing the U.S. Southern Border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims.

In response, Mexico will authorize the entrance of all of those individuals for humanitarian reasons, in compliance with its international obligations, while they await the adjudication of their asylum claims. Mexico will also offer jobs, healthcare and education according to its principles.

The United States commits to work to accelerate the adjudication of asylum claims and to conclude removal proceedings as expeditiously as possible.

Further Actions

Both parties also agree that, in the event the measures adopted do not have the expected results, they will take further actions. Therefore, the United States and Mexico will continue their discussions on the terms of additional understandings to address irregular migrant flows and asylum issues, to be completed and announced within 90 days, if necessary.

Ongoing Regional Strategy

The United States and Mexico reiterate their previous statement of December 18, 2018, that both countries recognize the strong links between promoting development and economic growth in southern Mexico and the success of promoting prosperity, good governance and security in Central America. The United States and Mexico welcome the Comprehensive Development Plan launched by the Government of Mexico in concert with the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to promote these goals. The United States and Mexico will lead in working with regional and international partners to build a more prosperous and secure Central America to address the underlying causes of migration, so that citizens of the region can build better lives for themselves and their families at home.

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