By Trevor Hunnicutt, Dave Graham and Matt Spetalnick LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -U.S. 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 […]
Biden unveils migration plan at Americas summit roiled by division
By Trevor Hunnicutt, Dave Graham and Matt Spetalnick
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -U.S. 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 U.S.-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 https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/10/los-angeles-declaration-on-migration-and-protection 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 in all, festooned the stage where Biden led the rollout. But even that number was only achieved after days of U.S. pressure.
It was another sign of tensions that have marred the summit, undermining Biden’s efforts to reassert U.S. 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 U.S. antagonists Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The summit’s line-up was thinned down to 21 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 U.S.-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 U.S. influence among its southern neighbors, including a new economic partnership that 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. “We can’t have exclusions,” said new Chilean leftist President Gabriel Boric.
The summit sessions this week regularly rang out to U.S. 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 … unlawful migration is not acceptable.” He expressed hope that other countries would lend support to the declaration.
U.S. officials scrambled until the last minute to persuade skeptical governments to back the plan, a person familiar with the negotiations said.
Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation, called the declaration a “useful framework for working on solutions” 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.
Jorge Castaneda, a former Mexican foreign minister, said pledges from the Americas should allow the U.S. government to argue that it had secured major commitments, making it 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 President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s no-show.
The absence from the summit of the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the Northern Triangle region from which many migrants come – has raised doubts how effective the pledges will be. U.S. officials had insisted the turnout would 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 any pledges by Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation.
The announcement did not include any U.S. pledges for additional work visas for Mexicans. That would form part Lopez Obrador’s visit with Biden next month, an official said.
Observer Spain pledged to “double the number of labor pathways” for Hondurans, the White House said. Madrid’s temporary work program enrolls only 250 Hondurans, suggesting only a small increase is envisioned.
Curbing irregular migration is a top priority for Biden as the attempted illegal border crossings have soared.
Republicans, who hope to regain control of Congress in November elections, have pilloried the Democratic president for reversing restrictive immigration policies of Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
But migration has had to compete with Biden’s other major challenges, including high inflation, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham, Matt Spetalnick, Trevor Hunnicutt, Lisanda Paraguassu and Ted Hesson; writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)