No signed agreement with US on asylum seekers: Mexico

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard has been the job since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office on December 1, 2018 (AFP Photo/FADEL SENNA)

Mexico City (AFP) - There is no signed agreement allowing third-country migrants to stay in Mexico while their asylum applications are processed in the United States, Mexico's new foreign minister said Friday.

Marcelo Ebrard spoke one day after US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the Donald Trump administration will send migrants who cross the southern US border back to Mexico while their cases are being heard.

"We have signed no treaty, nor will we do it," Ebrard said during the daily press conference of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office on December 1.

Mexico's Washington charge d'affairs Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia told reporters Thursday his country would "guarantee that foreign people who have received their appointment (in the United States) fully enjoy the rights and freedoms recognized by the constitution."

But he also urged Washington "not to turn migrants into ping-pong balls."

"The measure applies only to people seeking asylum" in the United States, Zabalgoitia said. "We will not accept people deported from the United States."

In Mexico, some critics thought that meant their new government had signed an agreement with Washington formalizing the procedure.

Not so, said Ebrard.

"Mexico would not accept such a treaty, we have told them many times," he said.

Ebrard said officials were asking Washington for more details on what they are doing so they can give a "more accurate position" regarding the policy on Monday.

The US announcement came after US courts rebuffed Trump administration orders to deny asylum to tens of thousands of Central Americans, mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, who have headed northward fleeing poverty and violence in their countries.

Since Mexico will not accept non-Mexican migrants returned by the United States, US officials are forced to register those people, either charging them with illegal entry or recording their asylum requests.

Then they are released within the United States to await future hearings. Nielsen says few ever show up for their asylum hearings.

On Tuesday the United States said it was ready to support $4.5 billion in investment in Central America and southern Mexico in hopes of stemming migration.