LOS ANGELES — Migration took center stage at a gathering of Western Hemisphere leaders, reflecting its emergence as a major foreign policy issue amid red carpet drama over who comes and goes. who stays at home.
The “Los Angeles Declaration,” to be announced as US President Joe Biden meets with his counterparts in North, Central and South America from Wednesday to Friday, should be a brief call to action that supporters hope , will guide countries on welcoming people fleeing violence and persecution and seeking greater economic stability.
The United States has been the most popular destination for asylum seekers since 2017, posing a challenge that has baffled Biden and his immediate predecessors Donald Trump and Barack Obama.
But the United States is far from alone. Colombia and neighboring South American countries are hosting millions of people who have fled Venezuela. Mexico filed more than 130,000 asylum applications last year, many of them Haitians, triple the number in 2020. Many Nicaraguans are fleeing to Costa Rica, while displaced Venezuelans make up about a sixth of the population of little Aruba.
“Countries are already obligated to do this, so rather than each country trying to sort this out and figure it out for themselves, what we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s come together cohesively and build a framework so that we can all work together to make this situation more humane and manageable,” said Brian Nichols, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Biden was due to arrive at the summit on Wednesday, trailed by questions about how much progress he can make on migration and other issues when some of his counterparts in the region — including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — boycott the event.
Controversy has undermined the start of the summit, which is being hosted by the United States for the first time since the inaugural event in 1994, at a time when China is trying to make inroads in the region.
Although Biden was heavily involved in Latin America when he was vice president, he has largely focused elsewhere since taking over as president last year. He tried to reorient US foreign policy toward Asia while rallying allies to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Some concrete measures could be announced, perhaps the financing of development banks. Nichols said in an interview Monday that it would be premature to discuss any specific initiative, but officials made it clear that the deal would be broadly ambitious.
It is widely accepted that relief should aim at the growth and stability of entire communities in which migrants live, not just migrants.
“If you’re only helping migrants and not the communities around them, it’s counterproductive,” Nichols said.
According to experts who have seen early drafts, the deal could require more pathways to legal status, family reunification mechanisms, more effective and humane border controls and better information sharing.
Leaders of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – each essential to any regional migration strategy – are skipping the Summit of the Americas, stripping Biden of symbolic weight and unity amid photo opportunities and pageantry beginning with an inaugural ceremony on Wednesday.
Mexican López Obrador said he delegated Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard because the United States had excluded Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, all countries that send large numbers of migrants to the United States and other countries. neighboring countries.
Leaving for Los Angeles on Tuesday, Ebrard said Mexico’s close relationship with the United States was unchanged and noted that Lopez Obrador would visit Washington in July.
President Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador said an agreement on migration would be an important recognition of what governments are facing.
“(When) you talk about problems and it’s part of a declaration, of a summit as important as this, obviously the problem exists, the problem enters the consciousness of those who should be part of the solution” , he told a group of citizens. activists in Los Angeles.
The migration agreement took shape during discussions by senior diplomats in Colombia in October and in Panama in April. Experts who have been consulted by governments say it is largely driven by the United States and other countries that host large numbers of migrants, such as Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru and Panama.
The strategy appears to resemble a US-only plan that Vice President Kamala Harris announced last July, calling for “safe and humane border management” and more pathways to legal status.
So far, the Biden administration has little to show for it.
The regional leaders’ meeting comes as several thousand migrants marched through southern Mexico on Tuesday – the largest migrant caravan of the year – with local authorities not yet showing signs of trying to stop them.
Mexico has tried to contain the migrants to the south, away from the US border. But many there have become frustrated with the slow bureaucratic process to regularize their status and the lack of job opportunities to support their families.
US authorities have blocked migrants from crossing the Mexican border more often than at all times for about two decades. Under a pandemic-era rule aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, many are being quickly deported without the possibility of seeking asylum. But the authority of Title 42, which a Louisiana federal judge upheld, is applied unevenly by nationality.
At Eagle Pass, Texas, one of the busiest places for illegal crossings, Cubans wade freely through the Rio Grande and are released in the United States on humanitarian parole, aided by Cuba’s refusal to take them back. On the other hand, Mexico has agreed to take back migrants deported from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, as well as Mexico.
Cristian Salgado, from Honduras, hoped he would be treated like the Cubans he saw when he crossed illegally with his wife and 5-year-old son about a month ago, but US authorities turned him away to the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras without allowing him to plead his case. He remembers a border agent saying, “There is no asylum for Honduras”.
Associated Press writers Maria Verza in Mexico City, Gonzalo Solano in Quito, Ecuador and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.