MEXICO CITY – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said Friday that he would avoid getting into a confrontation with President Trump over his threats to impose tariffs on Mexico unless it stopped migrants from crossing into the United States.
Mr. López Obrador said that he was dispatching a delegation to Washington, led by his foreign minister, to try to dissuade Mr. Trump from carrying out the threat.
President Trump said Thursday that he would impose a 5 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico starting June 10, and then gradually increase the tariffs to 25 percent unless the flow of undocumented migrants crossing through Mexico and into the United States “is remedied.”
The Mexican president said that his envoys would present evidence to American officials that they have already been trying to slow the tide of migration, in the hope that diplomacy might quell the brewing storm.
“I want to insist that we are not going to fall to any provocation,” Mr. López Obrador said. “We are going to act with prudence, with respect for the authorities of the United States, with respect for President Donald Trump.”
He added: “We think that all conflicts in bilateral relationships must be resolved with dialogue, with communication.”
He said he anticipated that in time, President Trump would abandon his threat, “because these measures don’t suit the Mexicans nor the Americans.”
The tariffs are only the latest measure that President Trump has threatened in response to what he calls an insufficient effort by the Mexican government to curb the flow of migrants, most of them Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence.
In recent months, President Trump has repeatedly warned that he might close the southwest American border as a punitive measure to coerce the Mexican authorities to increase migration enforcement. In April, he threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on cars assembled in Mexico.
Each time, Mr. López Obrador has adopted a measured posture, urging dialogue and counting on mutual economic interest to prevail. And so far, his bet has paid off, as Mr. Trump has stepped back from his threats.
Mr. López Obrador said Friday that while his administration could employ “legal mechanisms” to forestall tariffs, he would eschew that tactic — for now.
“We want there to be dialogue, understanding, and that an agreement is arrived at without the need for a legal process,” he said. “What we want is to convince, persuade that free trade is convenient” to both countries.
Mr. López Obrador took office in December, promising a shift away from what he said was an enforcement-first migration policy and toward a more humanitarian approach.
During his first few months in office, detentions and deportations by the Mexican authorities fell sharply, even as the flow of migrants from Central America and elsewhere surged.
Initially, his administration largely accommodated the enormous migrant caravans that made their way north from Central America toward the American border, doing little to stop them from crossing Mexico’s highly porous southern border and allowing them to travel essentially unfettered across Mexican territory.
His administration even initiated an effort to issue expedited humanitarian visas to Central Americans, which allowed them to work and travel anywhere in Mexico.
But the welcoming approach appeared to spur even more migration out of Central America, with many migrants seeking to use Mexico as a way station on their way to the United States. The influx overwhelmed the resources of local governments along Mexico’s northern and southern borders and tested the patience of residents.
In recent weeks, under pressure from Mr. Trump as well as from the local Mexican authorities, the López Obrador administration appears to have been ramping up enforcement efforts, getting tougher on the caravans, rounding up more undocumented migrants and increasing deportations.
By Kirk Semple
The New York Times