UPDATE 4-Mexico pushes back after top U.S. court favors Trump on shunning migrants

(Adds conditions in Mexican border cities)

MEXICO CITY, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Mexico pushed back on Thursday against a U.S. Supreme Court action granting a Trump administration request to fully enforce a new rule curtailing asylum applications by immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, one that could create a new headache for Mexico.

The court on Wednesday said that so long as the issue is being litigated, immigrants who want asylum can be required to first seek safe haven in a third country through which they travel on the way to the United States.

"This is the ruling by the court, it's a U.S. issue, and obviously we don't agree with it, we have a different policy," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told a news conference.

The court's move comes at a delicate time for Mexican-U.S. relations. Under U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of imposing tariffs, Mexico has agreed to house many of the surging number of Central American asylum-seekers south of the border pending their U.S. hearings.

That gesture has led to a decline in U.S. apprehensions and rejections of migrants at the border, which totaled 64,000 people in August, down 22% from July and 56% from a high mark in May.

Even though arrests are still at their highest for any month of August since 2007, the decline from earlier this year won Mexico praise from Trump following a White House meeting on Tuesday.

But Mexico has resisted U.S. pressure to sign a formal "safe third country" agreement that would commit it to hearing the asylum cases of migrants from Central American and elsewhere, a move that would take even more pressure off the U.S. border.

"This can't come about from a court ruling by another country. It's an agreement between two or more countries," Ebrard said, referring to a safe third country agreement. "Mexico won't accept it under any circumstances."

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been at pains to avoid angering Trump in the fraught discussions over trade and migration, mindful that Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States.

Lopez Obrador, who spoke with Trump by telephone on Wednesday, told the news conference the call was fruitful and there was nothing that would lead to the imposition of measures that would hurt the Mexican economy.

Asked whether the two presidents could meet in person, Ebrard said the matter has been under consideration, but that there were no plans for a meeting in the short term.

Mindful of domestic political pressure not to cave in to the United States, Ebrard repeated that Mexico expected U.S. authorities to curb the southward flow of illegal weapons into Mexico, a stance his government has adopted to counter U.S. demands to do more to stop migrants heading north.

Successive Mexican governments have pointed out that illicit arms sales from the United States into Mexico have fueled turf wars between drug gangs and clashes with security forces, exacerbating social problems and adding to migratory pressures.

Ebrard said it was in his country's interest to keep migrant numbers down to avoid tensions with Washington on the issue in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

At the same time, the buildup of migrants has created problems in Mexican border cities.

According to heads of migrant shelters and aid groups in Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas cities such as Laredo and Brownsville, asylum-seekers who are stuck south of the border in Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros are camped out by the Rio Grande and in the streets.

One migrant shelter in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, has more than double its capacity with some 350 people staying there, said Hector Silva, a pastor who runs a shelter.

Migrants included Venezuelans and Cubans as well as Central Americans, he said. (Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera and Delphine Schrank Writing by Dave Graham and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell)

09/12/2019 17:49

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