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U.S. Officials To Brief Mexican Government On Immigration Policies

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is visiting Mexico today. And the secretary of homeland security, John Kelly, arrives there tomorrow. They will be meeting with Mexican officials to talk about deportees from the United States who may be following them to Mexico. The Trump administration outlined new immigration policies yesterday. And we're going to talk about this with NPR's Carrie Kahn, who's in Mexico City. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's Mexico responding to this week's news?

KAHN: Well, officially we haven't heard much from the government. And that's not too surprising. They were just released yesterday. And President Enrique Pena Nieto here, he doesn't react to every tweet from the Trump administration or policy change. So he takes a very moderate stance. That's actually cost him greatly politically here. He's one of the most unpopular in modern Mexican history.

INSKEEP: Although, when you say, cost him greatly politically, that's a reminder that this has been a subject for many months of discussion in Mexico. Broadly speaking, how are Mexican authorities preparing to accept more deportees from the United States, to be looking at a wall being built on the border, or to deal with anything else that's been announced?

KAHN: Well, other politicians - especially leftist legislators here and candidates - have long been advocating for Mexico to just stop cooperating with the U.S. over security, and especially border protection. These new guidelines are just bound to reinforce that position. And as Central American illegal immigration has increased greatly to the United States, it's Mexico that has been deporting and stopping many more of them coming through their territory, before the Central Americans even get to the U.S. border. So that's something, among several security and border measures, Mexicans say they might not want to help with any more.

INSKEEP: The Mexicans have been saying they're helpful with that - helpful with the war on drugs. We had a former foreign minister on the air who said if the United States starts pouring people back into Mexico, Mexico could resist just by demanding the United States prove that they're Mexican, which might be hard. Could this really happen? Could this be a deportee war?

KAHN: Well, this is what we're hearing from Mexican legislators. I've been hearing that a lot. When you have a Mexican that is going to be formally deported back to Mexico, the Mexican officials have to help and substantiate and validate that these are Mexican citizens. Many of them don't have IDs - don't come with their passport. So they have an interview with a Mexican consular official, who writes on a piece of paper, I certify that this person is Mexico. A lot of legislators, a lot of people in Mexico saying, hey, maybe we won't do that - make that so easy anymore.

INSKEEP: Well, who's actually affected here, Carrie? I'm thinking there's about 11 million people in the United States illegally. It's thought that about half - five or 6 million - are Mexicans. What's known about them?

KAHN: I don't want to generalize too much, but the one thing that makes Mexican immigration to the U.S. more complicated is that many of the Mexicans that have been living in the U.S. without authorization have been living there for a long time, some more than a decade, even two. And many of these people have U.S.-born children - 'cause Mexican illegal immigration to the U.S. has been about net zero for years now, since the Great Recession. It's at the lowest level in decades. So we're talking about long-term residents in the U.S. who've been living there without authorization.

INSKEEP: OK, much to discuss there. Let me ask about one other thing because the administration yesterday said that if there are people who passed through Mexico from other countries to the United States and sought asylum, the U.S. wants them to stay in Mexico while awaiting an asylum hearing in the United States. Will Mexico allow that?

KAHN: That's the most baffling part of these new guidelines. The cooperation and the coordination that you need from Mexico to pull this off would have to be great. And Mexico - I can just tell you that Mexico is not in any mood to help the U.S. lately, given the hostile relationships that they're having. And it's just something that's not going to go over well with Mexicans. And I'm sure the two secretaries that are here this week will hear a lot about that provision during their visit.

INSKEEP: NPR's Carrie Kahn, talking with us as Rex Tillerson heads for Mexico, and John Kelly follows tomorrow. Carrie, thanks.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.