US immigration

Biden unveils migration plan, capping Americas summit roiled by division

Reuters
Biden unveils migration plan, capping Americas summit roiled by division

AMERICAS SUMMIT. US President Joe Biden poses for a family photo alongside other heads of delegations during the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, US, June 10, 2022.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Some policy analysts are skeptical that the pledges are meaningful enough to make a significant difference

LOS ANGELES, USA – United States President Joe Biden and fellow leaders from the Western Hemisphere on Friday rolled out a new set of measures to confront the regional migration crisis, seeking to salvage an Americas summit roiled by division.

Biden’s aides had touted the migration declaration as a centerpiece of the US-hosted Summit of the Americas, and 20 countries joined him for a ceremonial unveiling of the plan – though several others stayed away.

Capping the summit’s final day, the White House promoted a series of migrant programs agreed by countries across the hemisphere and Spain, attending as an observer, which pledged a more cooperative approach. But some policy analysts are skeptical that the pledges are meaningful enough to make a significant difference.

Those measures include the United States and Canada committing to take in more guest laborers, providing pathways for people from poorer countries to work in richer ones, and other countries agreeing to greater protections for migrants. Mexico also agreed to accept more Central American workers, according to a White House statement.

“We’re transforming our approach to manage migration in the Americas,” Biden said. “Each of us is signing up to commitments that recognizes the challenges we all share.”

The flags of 20 countries, several fewer than the number attending the summit, festooned the stage where Biden led the rollout. But even that number was only achieved after days of US pressure.

It was another sign of tensions that have marred the summit, undermining Biden’s efforts to reassert US leadership and counter China’s growing economic footprint in the region.

That message was clouded by a partial boycott by several leaders, including Mexico’s president, to protest Washington’s exclusion of leftist US antagonists Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The summit’s line-up was thinned down to 21 visiting heads of state and government.

The Biden administration, facing a record flow of illegal migrants at its southern border, pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Venezuelan migrants across the region, renewed processing of family-based visas for Cubans and Haitians and eased the hiring of Central American workers. 

The announcements are part of a US-led pact dubbed the “Los Angeles Declaration” and aimed at spreading responsibility across the region to contain the migration problem.

The plan culminates a summit designed to re-establish US influence among its southern neighbors after years of relative neglect under former President Donald Trump. Biden earlier proposed an economic partnership to help the region’s pandemic recovery – though it appears to be a work in progress.

But at the summit’s opening on Thursday, leaders from Argentina and tiny Belize rebuked Biden face-to-face over the guest list, underscoring the challenge the global superpower faces in restoring its influence among poorer neighbors.

On Friday, Chile, Bolivia, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda joined the criticism, though Biden was not present.

“No one should exclude another country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who sat in for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said from the podium.

The summit sessions this week regularly rang out to US composer’s John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” march, a tune popularized by the classic British comedy show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

‘There’s nothing here’

Biden said “safe, orderly, legal migration is good for all our economies,” adding that “unlawful migration is not acceptable.” He expressed hope other countries would join later.

US officials scrambled until the last minute to persuade skeptical governments to back the plan.

Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation, called the declaration a “useful framework” but said it would likely have limited near-term effects because it is non-binding.

Some initiatives listed by the White House had been previously announced. Biden’s aides have cast the immigration plan in part as a way to help ease US labor shortages.

Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister, said pledges from the Americas should allow Washington to argue it had secured major commitments, a domestic “political plus” for Biden. But he added: “On substance, there’s nothing here.”

Mexico, whose border with the United States is the main point of migration – backed the declaration, despite Lopez Obrador’s no-show.

The absence from the summit of leaders of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – the Northern Triangle from which many migrants come – has raised doubts how effective the pledges will be. US officials insisted the turnout did not prevent Washington from getting results.

The declaration encompasses commitments by an array of countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Belize, and Ecuador. There was no mention, however, of pledges by Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation.

The announcement did not include any US pledges for additional work visas for Mexicans. That would form part Lopez Obrador’s visit with Biden next month, an official said.

Spain pledged to “double the number of labor pathways” for Hondurans, the White House said. Madrid’s temporary work program enrolls 250 Hondurans, suggesting only a small increase is envisioned.

Curbing irregular migration is a priority for Biden as the attempted illegal border crossings have soared.

Republicans, seeking to regain control of Congress in November elections, have pilloried the Democratic president for reversing Republican Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.

But migration has had to compete with Biden’s other major challenges, including high inflation, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine. – Rappler.com