WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump on Thursday threatened to deploy the military and close the southern US border if Mexico does not halt a caravan of Central America migrants heading north, raising the risk of huge disruptions to trade.
Stretching almost 2,000 miles (3,200 km), the US-Mexican border is one of the busiest in the world, processing thousands of commuters daily and much of the half a trillion dollars of annual trade between Mexico and the United States.
“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught and if unable to do so I will call up the US Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Several thousand Honduran migrants moved this week through Guatemala and some were trying to cross to Mexico on Thursday, local media said. Some hope to eventually enter the United States to escape violence and poverty.
Mexico’s government said it had sought assistance from the United Nations refugee agency to deal with migrants claiming refugee status at Mexico’s southern border, one day ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Mexico City.
On Friday, Pompeo will meet officials including outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, foreign minister Luis Videgaray and Marcelo Ebrard, the designated foreign minister of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Lopez Obrador, who takes office in December, said in the northern city of Saltillo on Thursday that he believed “an agreement can be reached” on the migration issue.
“We’re going to take care of our relationship with the United States government,” he said. “It’s very important to have a relationship of friendship.”
Trump told a political rally in Montana on Thursday night that he wanted “to thank the Mexican government because they are stopping it hopefully before it ever gets to Mexico.”
Mexican Foreign Minister Videgaray said his government had asked the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help process the migrants in order to guarantee transparency and so that Mexico could cope with a “higher volume of requests.”
“Later on, UNHCR could help the Mexican government to find places to settle (migrants) inside or outside Mexico for those granted refugee status, but that hasn’t been defined with UNHCR yet,” Videgaray told Reuters.
Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, Geronimo Gutierrez, told Fox News that seven migrants had already made requests to receive refugee status in Mexico.
Fox News reported on Thursday that Mexico and the United States had reached a deal on how to handle the migrant caravan.
Under this plan, if a migrant evaded the new system and travelled through Mexico into the United States, Mexico’s government would in future allow the person to be returned to Mexico, Fox News said, citing an unnamed official.