By Alexandra Alper
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will relay its anger to senior U.S. officials on Thursday about a bid by President Donald Trump to deport non-Mexican illegal migrants south across the border, the latest point of tension between the two neighbors.
The U.S. government is seeking to deport many illegal immigrants to Mexico if they entered the United States from there, regardless of their nationality, prompting a fiery response from Mexican officials.
Calling the measure "unilateral" and "unprecedented," Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said the new U.S. immigration guidelines would top the agenda of meetings in Mexico City with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
Washington has tried to downplay the tensions, which follow arguments between the United States and Mexico over Trump's vow to build a wall on the border and his attempts to browbeat Mexico into giving concessions on trade.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on the eve of the meetings that the U.S. relationship with Mexico was "phenomenal" and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made conciliatory comments on Thursday about trade.
Asked about Videgaray's rejection of Trump's bid to deport non-Mexican illegal migrants to Mexico, Spicer said he expected Tillerson and Kelly will "talk through the implementation of the executive order."
The stakes are high for the United States, since Mexico has warned that a breakdown in relations could affect its extensive cooperation on the fight against narcotics and on stemming the flow of Central American migrants that reach the U.S. border
The Mexican side plans to seek more information on Trump's executive orders at the summit, according to notes from a senior official that outlines Mexico's planned talking points at the meeting.
Officials plan to say, "We are worried about the consequences that these can have for Mexican nationals," in the United States, the notes show.
As part of its response, Videgaray said Mexico's foreign ministry would get involved in legal cases in the United States where it considered the rights of Mexicans had been violated.
"The Mexican government will take all the measures legally possible to defend the human rights of Mexicans abroad, especially in the United States," Videgaray said.
TRADE 'PLAN B'
The visit, which will include meetings with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as military, finance and interior officials, is supposed to focus on border security, law enforcement and trade, according to the state department.
Slapping tariffs on U.S. goods would be a "plan B" for Mexico if renegotiations over a new mutually-beneficial trade deal fail, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Thursday morning ahead of the talks. [E1N1FF00S]
Guajardo said he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.
However, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said on Thursday he did not see any changes to NAFTA in the short-term
But hopes for a thawing in relations are low, after a series of botched meetings last month deepened tensions between the historic allies.
"The relationship... is at such a historic low that it would be wishful thinking to assume that new concrete agenda items to advance [it] will come at this point," Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council's Latin America Economic Growth Initiative said.
Pena Nieto abruptly canceled a planned January summit with Trump after the real estate mogul suggested the Mexican leader should not come if he refused to pay for a border wall.
And Trump signed his first executive orders to punish sanctuary cities and build the wall, which could cost around $21.6 billion, the first time Videgaray traveled to Washington to negotiate with counterparts last month.
Trump has also threatened to rip up the trade deal between the United States and Mexico if he cannot renegotiate it to favor American interests.
Trump's administration also plans to hire 15,000 more immigration and border agents, while subjecting immigrants who cannot show they have been in the country for more than two years to "expedited removal."
(Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Christine Murray, Adriana Barrera and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell)