Mexico wants U.S. to reroute funds to tackle migrant surge: sources

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico wants the United States to redirect security funding toward boosting economic development in the Mexico-Guatemala border region to try to stem the flow of migrants from the region, Mexican officials said on Wednesday.

Amid efforts to defuse a trade dispute U.S. President Donald Trump has tied to migration, two Mexican government sources said the proposal was one of the main positions Mexico was pushing in discussions with U.S. officials in Washington on Wednesday.

Mexico wants to persuade the Trump administration that U.S. funding provided under a joint security scheme known as the Merida Initiative would be better spent on developing the Mexican southern border region than on military outlays.

Mexico’s poorer south and Guatemala have long been prone to migration and the Mexican government hopes that fostering development in the area will lower the pressure to leave.

Mexico still rejects a U.S. demand to keep Central American asylum seekers on its side of the border and not let them seek refuge in the United States, the government sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Frustrated by lack of progress on a signature issue from his 2016 election campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump told Mexico last week to take a tougher line on containing illegal immigration or from Monday face 5% tariffs on all its exports to the United States, rising to as much as 25% later in the year. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2Khd82D)

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is expected to try to show the White House at talks taking place on Wednesday that Mexico is taking steps to stem the flow of people, detaining double the number each day than it was a year ago.

There were also signs that U.S. position was softening on Wednesday after some Republicans said they would not support the president’s tariffs on Mexico.

During the meeting, the sources said, Mexico would press the United States to curb the flow of weapons and ammunition sold illegally across the U.S. border to powerful and violent criminal Mexican gangs, a longstanding Mexican complaint.

Mexico would also argue the United States should commit to a form of “Marshall Plan” to develop the Central American countries that send the bulk of the migrants, they added.

Meanwhile, the United States is pushing Mexico to keep asylum seekers on its side of the border, clamp down on people smugglers and tighten controls on migrants in the south of the country, three Mexican sources said before the talks.

Among the talking points are U.S. demands that Mexico rapidly expand a program under which it receives Central American asylum seekers awaiting hearings in the United States, the sources said, asking not to be identified.

Another more radical proposal being discussed is to make Mexico a “safe third country”, which would force Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States to apply for it instead in Mexico. Ebrard has rejected the idea.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the talking points.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is due to host Wednesday’s meeting with Ebrard and his delegation. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also scheduled to take part in the talks.