Trump Sends Top Aides To Mexico Amid Tensions With U.S.

Feb 23, 2017
Originally published on February 23, 2017 6:57 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are in Mexico today. It's their first meeting with Mexican officials since Kelly's department released immigration enforcement guidelines that could affect millions of Mexicans in the United States. And that order is not the only reason this is an awkward situation.

President Trump also threatens to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it, and he wants to rip up NAFTA, the deal that governs trade between the countries. As President Trump put it earlier today, the U.S. must be treated fairly by Mexico.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to have a good relationship with Mexico, I hope. And if we don't, we don't. But we can't let that happen.

SHAPIRO: We're joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What kind of tone did Tillerson and Kelly strike down there?

KAHN: It was very conciliatory. Both secretaries spoke after a long meeting with their counterparts. They both said they were honored to be here and to meet with the president and are ready to work together to work through the two countries' differences. Here, let's listen to Rex Tillerson.

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REX TILLERSON: In our meetings, we jointly acknowledged that in a relationship filled with vibrant colors, two strong sovereign countries from time to time will have differences.

KAHN: And then the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kelly also spoke, and he emphatically said while looking at the cameras, there would not be any mass deportations. He said the U.S. is focusing on getting criminal elements out of the country, and deportations will be orderly and respectful of human rights. That's the point the Mexicans kept stressing - that they want the human rights of their citizens in the U.S. to be respected. But they did not outline any new agreements or accords.

SHAPIRO: Does it feel like this resolved tensions over that immigration order, or is there still a lot of anxiety from the Mexican perspective?

KAHN: There is a lot of anxiety. And I think those new guidelines provided new anxiety for the Mexicans, primarily one provision in there that would require Mexico to accept migrants from countries other than Mexico.

The DHS guidelines say that migrants who pass through Mexico into the U.S. would be returned to Mexico even if they're not Mexicans to wait out their legal proceedings, like asylum petitions and things like that. And Mexico is adamant that that will not happen. And the foreign minister once again reiterated that. Today he said Mexico will not stand for unilateral decisions forced on them by another country.

SHAPIRO: What about everyday Mexicans? What are they saying about the visits by the secretary of state and secretary of homeland security?

KAHN: We've heard a lot from senators and lawmakers here that are just upset that the president even agreed to see the two secretaries. They called on him not to receive them. There has been protests in front of the U.S. embassy today. Those are mostly from U.S. citizens living here, and they're upset over the tone President Trump has taken toward Mexico and Mexicans.

I believe that the two secretary's conciliatory tone will help smooth over some of the very ruffled feathers here, but it's really not going to change that much. Tensions are still high and especially given those comments that we heard from Trump today even while the secretaries were meeting here in Mexico.

SHAPIRO: Clearly people in Mexico are upset. Do they have leverage to try to get the Trump administration to do what they would like?

KAHN: You hear a lot from Mexican lawmakers threatening to not be so cooperative in deportation situations with Mexicans, also to not be so cooperative in joint policing of the border. They're saying that Mexico does have a little bit of leverage, that they are great partners and do help in anti-terrorism policing and things like that and that maybe they're not going to be so cooperative anymore.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.