Mexico says migrants have right to seek U.S. asylum, rejects closing border

Mexico's Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray gives a speech to senators during a plenary session of Mexico's Senate in Mexico City, Mexico October 9, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Central American migrants have a right to request asylum in the United States and Mexico has repeatedly refused U.S. requests to force them to seek refuge there instead, Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said on Wednesday.

Videgaray, who leaves office at the weekend, said the incoming Mexican government was also not planning to accept U.S. demands that it give asylum to the migrants, thousands of whom have arrived at the U.S.-Mexican border in caravans in recent weeks.

He told Mexican network Televisa that accepting the U.S. requests “would declare Mexico a final destination for migrants, invalidating any asylum process in the United States. We have rejected this.”

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened this week to “permanently” close the U.S.-Mexican border if Mexico does not deport some 7,000 Central Americans gathered in the border city of Tijuana.

Videgaray said that closing the border, through which $1.7 billion in bilateral trade passes every day, would be “incredibly negative” for both countries.

Videgaray said the migrants were welcome to stay in Mexico while they waited to file asylum claims in the United States.

“What is happening is very different. They are in Mexico, waiting to file for (U.S.) asylum. Being in Mexico does not mean they lose their ability, their right to request asylum.”

Videgaray did not address reports that the incoming government of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was close to an agreement with the United States that would make migrants wait in Mexico even after they had submitted their claim in the United States.

Under current rules, migrants who ask for U.S. asylum are either detained in the United States or released there to await the final ruling on their application, a process Trump refers to as “catch and release” and that on average takes close to two years.

Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell