President Donald Trump threatened to make Mexican immigration control a condition of a new NAFTA agreement on Monday, saying the southern U.S. neighbor must stop illegal immigrants from getting into the United States.
"Mexico, whose laws on immigration are very tough, must stop people from going through Mexico and into the U.S. We may make this a condition of the new NAFTA Agreement," Trump wrote in a Twitter post. "Our Country cannot accept what is happening!"
The U.S. president made similar comments linking NAFTA, an acronym for the North American Free Trade Agreement, and immigration when a "caravan" of migrants moved through Mexico this month. "They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA," Trump wrote in an April 1 Twitter post.
However, discussion of immigration controls has not been a part of formal negotiations on the new NAFTA accord and talks by all accounts - including Trump's - are progressing.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray dismissed Trump's comment in his own Twitter post. Mexico decides its immigration policy in a sovereign manner, he said, and it would be "unacceptable" to condition the renegotiation of NAFTA.
Before Trump's tweet, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, said he hoped for agreement soon on a reworked NAFTA, which includes Mexico, the United States and Canada.
Speaking at the Hanover trade fair in Germany, Nieto said differences between the parties could be overcome to revamp the 24-year-old accord, which underpins some $1.2 trillion in annual trilateral trade.
Canada and Mexico on Friday said good progress had been made in talks with the United States and that ministers would meet again in Washington on Tuesday as they push to wrap up a deal.
Since peaking at about 1,500 people, the so-called caravan of migrants from Central America has dwindled under pressure from Trump and Mexican migration authorities, who vowed to separate those migrants with a right to stay in Mexico from those who did not.
One group of several hundred migrants had made it to the northern Mexican state of Sonora and could reach the U.S. border by Tuesday or Wednesday.
"If members of the "caravan" enter the country illegally, they will be referred for prosecution for illegal entry in accordance with existing law," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen said in a statement on Monday.
She urged people seeking asylum to register with the first "safe" country they enter, including Mexico.