Mexico Says They Will Focus on Arms Smuggling at U.S. Meeting on Migrant Flows

Soldiers assigned to the National Guard keep watch as part of an ongoing operation to prevent migrants from crossing illegally into the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Soldiers assigned to the National Guard keep watch as part of an ongoing operation to prevent migrants from crossing illegally into the United States, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Mexico said it would press the United States to halt arms smuggling across its border with Mexico at a pivotal meeting in Washington on Tuesday called to review progress in efforts to curb a recent surge in Central American migrant flows.

Following threats by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on all its goods, Mexico on June 7 pledged to take a series of steps to contain migrants, and the two governments agreed to review that effort after 90 days.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard led the delegation meeting U.S. officials in Washington on Tuesday afternoon. He said on Twitter that while the Trump administration would focus on migration in the talks, curbing illicit arms flows south would be Mexico’s priority.

The meeting, which started at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT), was led on the U.S. side by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser, according to a White House official.

Successive Mexican governments have argued that illicit arms sales and gun-running from the United States into Mexico have fueled turf wars between drug gangs and clashes with security forces, exacerbating social problems and adding to migratory pressures.

More than 200,000 people have been killed in gang-fueled violence, and over 40,000 have disappeared since former President Felipe Calderon sent in the armed forces to tackle Mexico’s powerful drug cartels at the end of 2006.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office in December, has vowed to end the lawlessness, but 2019 is on track to be the country’s most violent year on record.

Mexico deployed thousands of security forces to its borders in response to Trump’s tariff threat, and has taken in more migrants while their asylum claims are processed in U.S. courts.

This month, Trump and U.S. officials have praised Mexico and Central American countries for helping cut U.S. border arrests by nearly 60% from earlier this year. But the issue remains fraught in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Trump campaigned for office in 2015-16 pledging to halt the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs from Mexico. The Mexican government has persistently argued that disputes over U.S.-Mexico border security are a shared responsibility.

Lopez Obrador has been at pains to avoid antagonizing Trump over trade and migration, mindful of the fact that Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States.

Still, his government has sought to draw some of the focus in bilateral relations away from migration by putting pressure on Washington to do more to tackle racially-motivated violence like the mass shooting in El Paso early in August.

Eight Mexican citizens were killed in the attack in the U.S. border city, and Ebrard last month urged the United States to declare the attack an act of terrorism against Mexicans.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Anthony Esposito in Mexico; Additional Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Tom Brown)

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