Senior officials from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration are set to embark on the first talks with Mexico President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his team, days after the leftist won a landslide election to a six-year term.
On Friday, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen start talks with counterparts in Mexico City.
In his first trip to Mexico as the top U.S. diplomat, “Secretary Pompeo will reaffirm the U.S. partnership with Mexico to combat transnational criminal organizations,” address the opioid epidemic, discuss “efforts to enhance trade, curb irregular migration and manage our shared border,” a senior State Department official said Thursday in a phone briefing.
U.S. officials will meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Lopez Obrador and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso. A press conference at Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be held, according to the State Department.
The high-profile meetings come amid strained relations between the neighboring countries over illegal migration, border security and trade negotiations.
WATCH: Pompeo and Mexico's President-Elect Seek Fresh Start
To curb the influx of migrants — mostly from Central America — that journey through Mexico and cross illegally into the U.S., the two countries are said to be in discussion about a so-called “safe third country” agreement.
A “safe third country” deal between Mexico and the U.S. would require asylum seekers from Central America to apply for protection in Mexico rather than at the U.S. border.
When asked if Washington would consider providing Mexico financial aid as an incentive and to help the country settle new asylum seekers, the senior State Department official told VOA that “migration issues are an incredibly important and complex issue” that the Trump administration is addressing. He said the Department of Homeland Security was taking the lead on such discussions.
In a statement, the DHS said migrant flows are a shared responsibility among nations in Latin America, and that Washington is working with regional governments to “find options for these individuals to remain within or closer to their countries of origin.”
Critics warned such an agreement could put migrants fleeing violence in further danger.
“The notion that Mexico is in any way safe for Central American asylum seekers is preposterous,” Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg of the advocacy group Legal Aid Justice Center told VOA on Thursday.
“I have had countless Central American clients, mostly women, tell me that the treatment they received in Mexico — whether by the cartels, or the government, or both — was nearly as bad as the violence they were fleeing in their home countries,” he added.
Mexico officials have said the best way to tackle issues related to illegal migration and border security is to “spur development in Mexico.”
Wednesday, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary on Western Hemisphere affairs, Kenneth Merten, told U.S. lawmakers that Washington is working with Mexico in tackling pressing issues through aid programs.
“Our assistance programs in the region seek to support rule of law and governance, and to make these countries better places to live, better places to do business, and thus ultimately reduce migration,” Merten said during a hearing Wednesday of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Pompeo will also discuss “continued U.S.-Mexico cooperation with the Nieto administration throughout the transition” and work closely with Lopez Obrador to continue strengthening the U.S.-Mexico relationship after the new administration takes office on December 1, said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.