Group says it will urge compatriots targeted for extradition to fight in court; government allocates funds
By José de Córdoba and Santiago Pérez
Feb. 10, 2017 6:15 p.m. ET
MEXICO CITY—Influential Mexicans are pushing an aggressive and perhaps risky strategy to fight a likely increase in deportations of their undocumented compatriots in the U.S.: jam U.S. immigration courts in hopes of causing the already overburdened system to break down.
The proposal calls for ad campaigns advising migrants in the U.S. to take their cases to court and fight deportation if detained. “The backlog in the immigration system is tremendous,” said former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda. The idea is to double or triple the backlog, “until [U.S. President Donald] Trump desists in this stupid idea,” he added.
Mr. Castañeda is part of a group of Mexican officials, legislators, governors and public figures planning to meet with migrant groups Saturday in Phoenix to lay out plans to confront the Trump administration’s deportation policy.
Mexico’s government hasn’t endorsed the strategy or the group’s Phoenix mission. But it recently allocated some $50 million to assist undocumented migrants facing deportation, and President Enrique Peña Nieto has instructed the country’s 50 consulates in the U.S. to defend migrants.
Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister, is part of a group of prominent Mexicans pushing for more protection of migrants in the U.S. Photo: omar torres/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said late Thursday it has intensified efforts to protect Mexican migrants, “foreseeing the hardening of measures by immigration authorities in the U.S., as well as possible constitutional violations during raids or in due process.”
Several senators in the newly engaged group—called Monarca after the butterflies that migrate across North America—plan to meet with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Sen. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) to highlight the risks they say Mr. Trump’s proposed policies pose to Mexican-U.S. relations.
“Mexico is helping on the fight on terror and that collaboration should be put under review given the attitude of Trump,” said Armando Ríos Piter, a senator with the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution attending the weekend meetings. “It’s important to make clear to them the possible consequences if Trump keeps a hostile and aggressive stance.”
The issue of stepped-up deportations is moving to the forefront in bilateral relations that have fractured since Donald Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Trump’s plans to deport undocumented Mexicans, renegotiate the countries’ free-trade deal, and build a border wall at Mexico’s expense have sparked a nationalist backlash south of the border.
Along with confronting the Trump administration by overwhelming tribunals, Monarca is also exploring making the U.S. responsible for providing documentation that deportees are Mexicans, Mr. Castañeda says, rather than Mexico accepting them without that documentation.
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Meanwhile, a group of senators said they were working on legislation to explicitly prohibit the government from allocating funds to build a border wall. Other contemplated legislation could lay out retaliatory measures if the U.S. government seeks to tax or block remittances to Mexico from migrants in the U.S., or to levy a border tax on Mexican exports, senators from the three main parties said.
“We want to be friends, but in the face of continued hostility we don’t have to keep a friendly attitude forever,” said Arturo Zamora, a senator with Mr. Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.
The new U.S. administration’s plans have put Mr. Peña Nieto in an uncomfortable position of defending Mexico’s interest while keeping communications channels open with his mercurial American counterpart.
The fate of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. is quickly becoming a major political issue, says pollster Ulises Beltrán. Mr. Peña Nieto has begun meeting returning deportees at the airport, and leftist populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador is to tour U.S. cities with large Mexican populations, starting with a Sunday rally in Los Angeles to blast Mr. Trump´s immigration policies.
Mr. Castañeda says it makes better sense for Mexico to work to keep migrants in the U.S. rather than resettling them in Mexico, where many would lack jobs.
Going through the courts, however, entails risks for undocumented emigrants, who may be held in U.S. detention centers for months while the deportation process plays out instead of being quickly sent back to Mexico, says Mr. Castaneda.
Mexican government funds should be used by consulates to fund legal representation and pay bail if necessary, he added, and any court delays should be litigated as violations of due process, a move that could significantly delay deportation flows.
The Obama administration deported more illegal immigrants than any before it. But Mexico is concerned that the new administration is widening its range of targets, citing Thursday´s deportation of Guadalupe García , a 36-year-old Mexican who lived in the U.S. for 22 years and has two U.S.-born children.
Observers say her deportation from Phoenix was a first concrete example of the Trump administration’s declared aim to broaden the categories of undocumented immigrants liable to deportation, from what the U.S. president has called “bad hombres” to migrants charged with less serious violations or seen as posing risks to community safety.
Ms. García was convicted of identity theft, a felony, after being arrested in 2009 with a false social security card, but had been checking in with immigration agents every six months. This week, when she reported to their Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix, she was detained and, after hours of protests by demonstrators, deported to Mexico.
—Juan Montes contributed to this article.