In the lead-up to a meeting Friday between Vice President Kamala Harris and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, US officials have discussed asking Mexico to commit to implementing measures to decrease the number of immigrants trying to cross the southern border, according to government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The proposals that have been discussed include Mexico officials prioritizing repatriating adults turned back by US border officials under a controversial Trump-era policy, increasing apprehensions of immigrants moving through their country to an average of 1,000 per day, and taking in more Central American families turned around at the border, according to the documents.
A National Security Council spokesperson said the policy items would not come up during the meeting between the two leaders on Friday. The documents, however, provide a window into the US government’s reliance on Mexico to slow down the number of immigrants arriving at the southern border each day.
The meeting with López Obrador comes as part of Harris’s effort to work with Mexico and Central American countries to address immigration after increased levels of unaccompanied children arrived at the US border this spring, leading to overcrowding in Border Patrol facilities. In recent weeks, the administration has relieved much of that overcrowding, bringing the number of unaccompanied children in custody down to just over 700.
A senior administration official said the US is pursuing a plan to partner with Mexico to tackle the root causes of migration, while also focusing on development and economic issues.
“Mexico is doing a lot,” the official said. “Mexico is really stepping up and doing their part.”
López Obrador said at a news conference this week that he was going to speak with Harris on Friday about immigration and proposals to confront migration in the region with US investments that will help create jobs and other opportunities in Central America and southern Mexico.
For years, US officials have wanted the Mexican government to increase its enforcement and turn back immigrants on their way to the southern border. During the Trump administration, the US threatened to place tariffs on Mexico goods if more wasn’t done to stem the increasing rates of families coming to the US in 2019. Shortly afterward, the two countries agreed that the US would be able to increase its use of a controversial policy keeping asylum-seekers in Mexico as their cases continued in the US.
“Mexico has already responded positively to US requests for support this year. Mexico has deployed National Guard troops and imposed new travel restrictions at its southern border. It has increased apprehensions and deportations of Central American migrants,” Christopher Wilson, a global fellow at the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, said in an email. “[López Obrador] showed time and again with the Trump administration that he was willing to do whatever it takes to avoid a crisis and maintain cordial relations with the United States. With midterm elections coming up in June seemingly on a positive trajectory for his party, [López Obrador] has no incentive to rock to the boat now.”
In the run-up to the meeting on Friday, US officials wrote in a draft memo that they want Mexico to implement a policy to help relieve pressure on border resources as they continue to use a Trump-era border policy, Title 42, which has led to tens of thousands of immigrants being expelled at the southern border, including those who fled their home countries and are seeking protection.
To that end, US officials wrote in the document that they want to ask Mexico to “prioritize repatriating single, adult, male migrants expelled by the United States pursuant to the US Title 42 and who do not have legal status in Mexico or protection needs from the U.S. border region” at a volume of 200 to 250 people a day.
“More repatriations would help dissuade Northern Triangle nationals from undertaking the irregular journey to the United States and would support our mutual goals of reducing irregular migration,” the document states. The officials believe it would also dissuade people from attempting to cross the border without authorization multiple times.
More than 172,000 immigrants crossed the southern border in March, the highest level in at least 15 years, though many of them were turned back under the Title 42 policy.
Unaccompanied children have been exempted from the policy, but the number of families crossing the border and being allowed to stay in the US has increased after Mexican officials passed a law prohibiting undocumented immigrant children from being held in detention centers.
With no space to hold the families in US facilities, and Mexico refusing to take them back, they’ve started to be released in Texas border cities. In April, Biden said he was negotiating with the president of Mexico to address the refusals to take back families at the border: “I think we are going to see that can change.” He added that the families "should all be going back” and that only unaccompanied children would be the exception.
US officials wrote in the memo that they wanted Mexico to take back more families turned around by the policy.
“Ask Mexico to accept more families from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras expelled pursuant to Title 42 across the U.S. Southwest border,” the memo states.
In confirming the meeting to reporters, Symone Sanders, the vice president’s spokesperson, told Reuters in April that the "meeting will deepen the partnership between our countries to achieve the common goals of prosperity, good governance, and addressing the root causes of migration.”
Wilson, the expert on US–Mexico relations, said that unlike the Trump era, the Biden administration wants to find a more “palatable” approach to the immigration issue for Mexico. He noted that Mexico's secretary of economy, Tatiana Clouthier, will also be part of the meeting.
“The White House is smart to embed the migration issue in a broader framework of bilateral cooperation,” he said.
The number of border arrests and detentions were at the same level as March, according to the Washington Post, which reported that border officials attributed the levels to increased Mexican enforcement.
The ACLU has been in negotiations with the US government for several weeks over blocking the use of Title 42 against families, and recently agreed to a delay in any judgment by the federal court to allow for a continued discussion.
The ACLU represents six families who fled their countries and were seeking safety in the US. Prior to the policy, the group contends, the families would have had a chance at seeking asylum at the border. Instead, under the Title 42 policy, immigrants and families at the border must “affirmatively” state they are fearful of being tortured in their home country in order to get the chance at a screening for protections.
Adolfo Flores contributed reporting to this story.