WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump faced questions Monday afternoon about his recent deal with Mexico to control immigration, but provided little clarity on what he said were undisclosed portions of the agreement when he spoke with journalists.
“It’s just another aspect of what we’ve done,” replied Trump during a brief event on the White House South Lawn honoring the race car team that won this year’s Indianapolis 500 race.
Asked by VOA why -- if there was such an agreement -- Mexico is denying it, Trump replied: “I don’t think they’ll be denying it very long. It’s all done.”
There has been confusion and consternation on both sides of the border after Trump earlier Monday claimed the United States signed what he calls “another very important part of the Immigration and Security deal with Mexico.”
Mexican officials on Monday denied any such side agreement on controlling migrants.
It could be related to plans for a regionwide asylum agreement if enforcement measures agreed to last week between Washington and Mexico City do not halt a surge of migrants from Central America to the United States.
“We trust that the measures we have proposed will be successful,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters on Monday. “But if they’re not, we’re going to have to participate in this kind of discussion.”
When asked in Mexico City about a clause committing Mexico to purchase more products from American farms, as Trump has also suggested in recent tweets, Ebrard only said, “The migration issue is separated from trade.”
Without specific information from Trump, and with top Mexican officials reluctant to publicly criticize the U.S. president for either mischaracterizing or misunderstanding what has been negotiated, analysts are scrambling to make sense of it all.
“I don’t know exactly what he’s talking about,” said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a Latin America analyst at the Cato Institute. “I’m sure Mexican negotiators would have conveyed that message” of any additional agreements to the Mexican public.
Trump said negotiators for both countries purposely agreed to not disclose the specific terms of a new agreement for the time being, adding, “It will be revealed in the not too distant future.”
Speaking Monday morning on the CNBC cable channel that focuses on business news, Trump characterized the undisclosed provision as “another powerful tool” to control the surge of Central American migrants headed to the United States, something the U.S. has been “trying to get from Mexico for 20 years.”
The president said the agreement needs to be approved by Mexico's Congress.
“We do not anticipate a problem with the vote,” Trump said on Twitter, but threatened that if the measure fails there, he will once again return to his threat of imposing new tariffs on Mexican goods.
....We do not anticipate a problem with the vote but, if for any reason the approval is not forthcoming, Tariffs will be reinstated!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2019
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also had no information about undisclosed additional agreements. But he did say his country’s Congress, where he enjoys strong legislative support, will hold a special session to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade, signed last November. Approval from the Mexican lawmakers could come within a week.
“If you feed a bully, the bully is going to come back again,” Hidalgo told VOA. “There is the concern in Mexico Trump is not going to be quiet for long. He’s going to come back with more demands. You’re going to reach a point where Mexicans say, ‘Enough is enough.’ The question is, when?”
Trump's Republican congressional colleagues have praised him for averting tariffs, but opposition Democrats have criticized an agreement with Mexico unveiled last Friday as not containing much that is new.
Ebrard said his country is to speed up deployment of its recently created National Guard at the southern border with Guatemala, and Mexican migration authorities will demand identification from any visitor entering Mexico. "What did we win? There are no tariffs, there is no threat of tariffs in 90 days," Ebrard said at the Monday morning news conference alongside the Mexican president.
The pact calls for Mexico to dispatch 6,000 troops to its border with Guatemala to halt the flow of migrants from there, Honduras and El Salvador, while giving the United States new authority to force asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their legal cases in the U.S. are pending.
When Trump announced the deal Friday night, Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer joked, “This is an historic night! @realDonaldTrump has announced that he has cut a deal to 'greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States.”
“Now that that problem is solved, I’m sure we won’t be hearing any more about it in the future,” Schumer added.
The New York Times reported recently that officials from the U.S. and Mexico said several terms in the new pact were actually agreed to last December, not in last week's negotiations between the two countries, a report Trump dismissed.
“When will the Failing New York Times admit that their front page story on the new Mexico deal at the Border is a FRAUD and nothing more than a badly reported 'hit job' on me, something that has been going on since the first day I announced for the presidency! Sick Journalism,” he tweeted.
When will the Failing New York Times admit that their front page story on the the new Mexico deal at the Border is a FRAUD and nothing more than a badly reported “hit job” on me, something that has been going on since the first day I announced for the presidency! Sick Journalism— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 10, 2019
Glenn Kessler, fact-checker at The Washington Post, noted in a tweet that the “Mexican government also keeps denying Trump’s claims. Yet again ‘fake news’ for Trump just means unflattering news.”
Trump has long criticized Mexico for not doing enough to cut the number of people arriving at the southern U.S. border and ahead of Friday's announcement had vowed to impose 5% tariffs, with future escalations, unless the Mexican government took more action to curb the surge of migrants.
“If we didn't have (the threat of) tariffs, we wouldn't have made a deal with Mexico,” Trump told CNBC on Monday.