US officials travel to Mexico amid fears over immigration orders
Secretary of state and homeland security chief in Mexico City to meet president
US immigration officers detain a suspect in Los Angeles. Photograph: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement via The New York Times
Two top officials from the Trump administration touched down in Mexico City on Wednesday for two days of meetings, amid growing concerns in Mexico that the country’s citizens could be affected by US president Donald Trump’s immigration orders.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, and John Kelly, the head of the department of homeland security, were due to meet President Enrique Peña Nieto, late on Wednesday against a background of unprecedented tensions between the neighbouring countries.
President Nieto cancelled his trip to Washington last month after Mr Trump reiterated his pledge to build a wall along the US-Mexico border and force Mexico to pay for it, just days after his inauguration.
The relationship between Mexico and the US is also being challenged by Mr Trump’s threat to revise Nafta, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and tax imports to the US, many of which come from Mexico.
In addition to meetings with President Nieto, Mr Tillerson and Mr Kelly are scheduled to meet Mexico’s ministers for finance, foreign affairs, national defense and the interior – a reflection of the broad policy areas that could be affected by the change of regime in Washington.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied suggestions of tensions between the two countries on Wednesday, arguing that the US government had a “very healthy and robust relationship with the Mexican government and officials”. “I think the relationship with Mexico is phenomenal right now,” he said.
While the issue of border control and the construction of a promised wall between the US and Mexico will top the agenda during the two-day visit, Mexico is expected to express concern about new guidelines on immigration and deportation issued this week by the department of homeland security.
There were unconfirmed reports on Wednesday that a Mexican deportee killed himself by jumping off a bridge near the US border having been deported hours earlier. In total, there are estimated to be close to six million undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the US.
As immigration groups continued to express concern about new guidelines issued by the department of homeland security on Tuesday which attempt to speed up deportation processes and increase the number of immigration and border control personnel, Democratic congressman Luis V Gutiérrez from Illinois accused the Trump administration of setting out to “destroy millions of American families and implement the Bannon purge of immigrants from America,” a reference to Trump adviser Stephen Bannon.
On Wednesday, Mr Spicer insisted that the new guidelines would primarily target criminals and people deemed to be a threat to the public, but he did not rule out further changes to legal immigration channels in the US.
As the US administration’s diplomatic focus turned to Mexico, House speaker Paul Ryan was part of a delegation of congressmen that travelled to the US border with Mexico on Wednesday – the first visit by the Wisconsin congressman to the border.
Congress is preparing to debate the possible cost of building the wall promised by President Trump. While Mr Trump has suggested the cost may be $8 billion, some experts estimate that it could be double that price.
Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives from across the country were preparing to descend on a convention centre in Maryland for the four-day annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Senior figures from the Trump administration including President Trump, vice-president Mike Pence, chief of staff Ralph Priebus and adviser Stephen Bannon are scheduled to address the conference.
Organisers disinvited the right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos from the conference on Tuesday, after internet footage emerged appearing to show the 33-year-old journalist condoning paedophilia.
Mr Milo Yiannopoulos was also forced to resign from right-wing website Breitbart News.