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World & Nation

Mexico’s immigration chief resigns as the U.S. presses for crackdown

Migrants wait outside the offices of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, where hundreds a
Migrants wait outside the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance this week in the southern border city of Tapachula. Hundreds line up daily to apply for documents allowing them to be in the country.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)

Mexico’s top immigration official resigned his post Friday amid continued pressure from the United States that Mexico take a harder line against migrants.

A statement posted online by the National Institute of Migration said director Tonatiuh Guillen Lopez had submitted a letter of resignation to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The statement did not say why the director had stepped down, but there was widespread speculation that Guillen, an outspoken champion of human rights, had clashed with the president over his willingness to comply with U.S. demands.

Earlier this month, Lopez Obrador agreed to send 6,000 National Guard troops to Mexico’s southern border and to house and feed more asylum seekers from Central America who have been returned from the U.S. to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases are heard.

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Mexican officials agreed to the deal to avoid potentially crippling tariffs that President Trump had threatened to impose on all imports from Mexico.

Guillen, the former head of an immigration think tank, was notably absent during back-to-back meetings in Washington where that deal was worked out. Negotiating on behalf of the Mexicans was Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.

In an article this week in El Universal newspaper, Mexican political reporter Carlos Loret de Mola wrote that Guillen was excluded from those meetings because he had clashed with U.S. officials in the past. According to the report, Guillen angered then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a meeting in March when he said people have a right to migrate.

Guillen’s departure reflects internal divisions in the Lopez Obrador government and in the country more broadly over how best to deal with Mexico’s increasingly demanding neighbor to the north.

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As a candidate, Lopez Obrador vowed to respect the rights of migrants, assailing then-President Enrique Peña Nieto for doing the “dirty work” of the U.S. in detaining and deporting Central Americans. But Trump’s tariff threat put Lopez Obrador in a bind. Economists warned that tariffs could push the already sluggish Mexican economy into a recession.

Critics of the deal Lopez Obrador struck with the U.S. say it is inhumane and unsustainable. Mexico has already taken in more than 11,000 asylum seekers who have been returned from the U.S. while they wait out their cases, and that number is expected to rise in the coming months. That would almost certainly put an economic and social strain on northern border cities where anti-immigrant sentiments have been simmering.

Tensions are also running high in southern Mexico, where the recent immigration crackdown has sowed fear and uncertainty among those trying to head north.

Lopez Obrador celebrated the recent deal for averting tariffs. But his victory may be temporary.

The U.S. has warned that if Mexico is unable to stem the flow of migrants in the next 45 days, it will push for an agreement that would force asylum seekers to first seek refuge in Mexico. If Mexico hasn’t slowed migration within 90 days, Trump may once again seek to impose tariffs.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum

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