(Reuters) – The United States began flying Mexican deportees deep into Mexico on Thursday, and senior U.S. and Guatemalan officials said Mexicans seeking U.S. refuge might be sent to the Central American nation, in a renewed effort to slash border crossings.
The flight carrying Mexican deportees from Tucson, Arizona, landed in the central city of Guadalajara around midday. One immigration shelter in the city said it had been informed of a likely influx of deportees.
U.S. President Donald Trump has made clamping down on unlawful migration a top priority of his three-year-old term in office and his 2020 re-election campaign.
Numbers of Central American migrants apprehended at the border fell sharply in the second part of 2019 after Mexico deployed National Guard troops to stem the flow, under pressure from Trump.
With fewer Central Americans at the border, U.S. attention has turned to Mexicans crossing illegally or asking for asylum. Around 150,000 Mexican single adults were apprehended at the border in fiscal year 2019, sharply down from previous decades but still enough to bother U.S. immigration hawks.
In another sign of the new focus on Mexicans, Acting Deputy U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said an agreement that lets U.S. immigration officials send asylum seekers to Guatemala to request refuge there instead could also apply to Mexicans and other nationalities.
“As we fully implement the agreement, all populations are being considered, including Mexican nationals,” Cuccinelli said on Twitter.
His comments were echoed by Guatemala’s Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who told Reuters he had analyzed whether Mexicans could be included in the program, which is similar to the “safe third country” arrangement in Europe that outsources asylum to Turkey.
Degenhart said the idea of including Mexicans had not been implemented so far but could not be ruled out.
“Right now, it is only being used with Central Americans,” he said, pointing out that Mexicans were not part of the long- standing pact that allows Central Americans to move freely between each others’ countries.