MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Friday urged a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to quickly reunite migrant families separated at the border.
Pena Nieto called for "a permanent alternative that prioritizes the well-being and rights of minors" and expressed concern over a recent attack on a 92-year-old Mexican man legally residing in California, a statement from the presidency said. The man was reportedly beaten by a woman with a brick and told, "Go back to your country."
Pena Nieto said such incidents "encourage a climate of hate and racism that we must avoid."
Pompeo was visiting Mexico with Cabinet-level officials to meet with both Pena Nieto and President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Discussions were expected to address ways to combat transnational criminal organizations, the U.S. opioid epidemic and trade tensions. But irregular migration across Mexico's northern border into the U. S. also loomed large.
"The United States is committed to making measurable progress to ensure security on both sides of that border," Pompeo told journalists.
U.S.-Mexico ties have deteriorated significantly under President Donald Trump, who campaigned on building a border wall and has repeatedly blamed Mexico for economic and social problems in the United States.
Pompeo was accompanied by Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. They offered congratulations to the president-elect. They met first with Pena Nieto and then with the leftist, populist Lopez Obrador.
Dozens of protesters jeered as Pompeo's motorcade approached Lopez Obrador's office, many condemning the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration policy that separated families attempting to claim asylum in the United States.
Pompeo offered congratulations to the president-elect.
"We wanted to come down here to let you know that President Trump cares deeply for the success of the relationship between our two countries. Our presence here today signals that to you," Pompeo said. "We know there have been bumps in the road between our two countries, but President Trump is determined to make the relationship between our peoples better and stronger."
Sharing a nearly 2,000-mile border, Mexico and the United States have traditionally coordinated closely on security and immigration. Mexico is also the United States' third-largest trading partner for goods, with the U.S. buying about 80 percent of Mexico's exports, including automobiles, fruit, vegetables and beer.
Marcelo Ebrard, who is set to be the next Mexican top diplomat, described the meeting between Pompeo and the president-elect as "frank, respectful and cordial." They shared with the U.S. delegation proposals for cooperation in commerce, development, security and migration.
But Ebrard said they did not discuss one idea that a Mexican official says has been proposed to address irregular migration: declaring Mexico a "safe third country." That would mean people traveling through Mexico hoping to claim asylum in the U.S. would have to do so in Mexico instead.
Such a proposal is unlikely to garner support in Mexico as it would burden the country with tens of thousands more asylum seekers a year, according to the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Relations have also been strained by tit-for-tat trade tariffs between Mexico and the U.S. amid tense negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. That has sparked fears of an all-out trade war. Trump has branded the free trade pact, which also includes Canada, as a job killer for Americans.
Information for this article was contributed by Mark Stevenson, Peter Orsi, Christopher Sherman and JoeBill Munoz of The Associated Press.
A Section on 07/14/2018
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