The best way Trump can leverage NAFTA for border security


April 25, 2018

By Brian Lonergan

Border security has been one of the thorniest branches in the immigration policy tree. Even with a border hawk in the White House, it has become clear that Congress lacks the appetite to have an honest debate on the topic, let alone approve the billions of dollars needed for a southern border wall. The Mexican government vows it will never pay for a wall, and the flow of illegal aliens across the border continues unabated. Is there anything that can be done to break the logjam on border security?

In a word, yes. In a landscape of stalled legislative agendas, there are effective moves that can be made. Last month the news was dominated by word of a caravan of refugees from Central America heading north and seeking asylum in the United States. While pressure from the U.S. on Mexico dispersed much of the caravan, some actually made it to the U.S. border. Many would be surprised to learn that this migration has recently become an annual spring event. Reports have circulated that these migrants are coached by human traffickers and open borders groups to say the “magic words” to U.S. authorities to qualify for asylum. The word is on the street: U.S. laws for refugees are wide open to exploitation and represent a back door into the United States.

President Trump recently suggested in a tweet that he may use a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as the basis for immigration reforms with Mexico. The obvious demands are for Mexico to somehow pay for a border wall or clamp down on border security. Both short- and long-term history have shown that Mexico is unlikely to comply with either request.

The answer may not be to our south, but to our north. There, we have an agreement called the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. It specifies that if a person approaches our border from Canada and seeks asylum, U.S. authorities will turn the person away as Canada is a safe third country and they must seek asylum there first. Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act defines a safe third country as one that is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the United Nations (UN) Convention Against Torture. As it turns out, Mexico is also a signatory to both of those agreements. Within the last decade, Mexico also received the imprimatur of the UN for its progressive policies on the humane treatment of refugees.

What does all this mean for security on our vulnerable southern border? As a condition of continuing some version of the NAFTA deal that has been a lifeline for Mexico, Trump should demand that Mexico sign a safe third country agreement with the U.S. This would be effective on two levels. First, it would discourage those who are not legitimate asylum seekers by making it clear that they will not be allowed to enter the U.S. by simply finding passage to the border.

Second, it would incentivize Mexico to stop the northward flow of migrants from Central America with the knowledge that those they allow in will eventually be Mexico’s responsibility. Such an agreement would not require congressional approval, which ensures it would not result in a protracted, partisan debate that ultimately produces nothing.

Would Mexico push back on such a demand? Of course. But Mexico’s leaders would have a tough decision to make. Is not protecting their borders worth losing a deal that has resulted in their exports increasing from 8.56 percent of Mexican GDP in 1993 to 36.95 percent in 2013? Not to mention the untold number of manufacturing jobs that have been shipped from the U.S. to their country? In that context, the decision really isn’t that tough.

Since assuming office, the Trump administration has built a track record of achievement by ignoring traditional protocols and simply doing what is in the best interests of America and its citizens. Insisting on a safe third country agreement with Mexico would add to that record.

Brian Lonergan is director of communications at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a public interest law firm working to defend the rights and interests of the American people from the negative effects of mass migration.

Also published at: Brian Lonergan, The best way Trump can leverage NAFTA for border security, The Hill, April 25, 2018

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