Sen. Mike Lee urges new U.S.-Mexico pact on migrants as caravan rolls toward America

(Rodrigo Abd | AP Photo) Central American migrants traveling with a caravan to the U.S. make their way to Mapastepec, Mexico, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. Thousands of Central American migrants renewed their hoped-for march to the United States on Wednesday, setting out before dawn with plans to travel another 45 miles (75 kilometers) of the more than 1,000 miles that still lie before them.

Washington • Sen. Mike Lee says the United States should enter into an agreement with Mexico to require Central American migrants to first seek asylum there before attempting to come to the United States.

Such a pact could weed out those who truly need help from those who might be a national security risk, Lee says.

President Donald Trump has asserted that a caravan of thousands of migrants fleeing to the United States could include “Middle Easterners” who may be terrorists and has suggested closing the United States' southern border with Mexico.

Lee, a Utah Republican, isn’t sure if Trump is right — and says that’s the issue.

“Nobody has a breakdown of who is in the caravan. That is the problem,” Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said. “When you have thousands of people trying to cross our border at one time, it is impossible to make sure there are no security threats among them.”

The president has called the caravan a national emergency just days ahead of the midterm elections and blamed Democrats for fostering an “open border” to the United States. Republicans, who hold the House, Senate and White House, have not passed any comprehensive immigration reform but have pumped more money into border security.

There has been no indication of anyone in the caravan — from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — to Mexico is from the Middle East, and Trump concedes there is “no proof” of that, but still says “there could very well be” terrorists among the group.

Lee joined Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging them to form an agreement with Mexico that all migrants coming into that country en route to the United States must first seek asylum when crossing into Mexico.

Such an agreement already exists between the United States and Canada.

“For over a decade now, United States sovereignty has been tested and too often disregarded,” the senators wrote in their letter to Nielsen and Pompeo.

“Under President Trump’s administration, and due in large part to both of your efforts, the United States is finally in a position to secure our border and reinstitute law and order,” the letter continues. “We strongly urge you — on the eve of a new Mexican presidential administration — to set the tone for American sovereignty in the 21st century. Entering into a safe third country agreement with Mexico would send a message to our partners across Central America that they too must share the burden of unsanctioned mass migration.”

The letter cites a memo from Jeh Johnson, who was President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, that argues for a continued evaluation of border and points of entry security to prevent acceptance of “Special Interest Aliens,” a phrase referring to people considered national security risks. The senators also note that Guatemala recently announced the arrest of 100 people affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist group.

“Due to the likelihood that such national security threats could mask themselves within this large caravan population," the senators said, “at a minimum, our federal government must prioritize the security of American citizens over anything else.”