Top US, Mexican Officials in Washington for Migration Talks
washington — Top U.S. and Mexican officials met Friday in Washington to discuss strengthening cooperation in addressing the large numbers of migrants trying to enter the U.S. through Mexico.
“Since our last meeting, I think a very significant development is President Arevalo being inaugurated in Guatemala,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the start of the meeting. “This opens an important new area for quiet operation on migration between our three countries and we will continue to work together more broadly to develop regional solutions to the historic challenge that that we face.”
New Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo has said he wants to work with the United States to expand temporary work programs for migrants there, while also increasing investment in his country’s poorest areas to reduce departures.
No significant announcement is expected to be made following Friday’s engagement, which Biden administration officials say continues progress made during a December 27 meeting in Mexico City.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall also attended Friday’s meeting, with Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Alicia Barcena leading the visiting delegation.
“We will concentrate on implementing sustainable solutions that address the root causes of migration,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said on a call with reporters Thursday.
The Mexican government has called on Washington to increase development investment in Central America to reduce migration, increase the number of temporary worker visas and other legal pathways for immigration, and ramp up repatriation flights for people who arrive in the U.S. illegally, particularly from Venezuela, as a deterrence for migrants.
The U.S. has resumed repatriation flights to Venezuela, and Mexico has done the same thing, starting in December, the most recent measure by countries in the region to address the exodus of people to the U.S. border.
“We encourage other countries to join us. We also applaud the steps that Mexico has taken, Panama, and other countries to restrict irregular migration and impose new visa controls,” according to a White House National Security Council official on a call to reporters Thursday.
In May 2023, Mexico agreed to receive migrants from countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba who were removed from the U.S. border for crossing into the United States without authorization and without following established legal pathways to asylum or other forms of migration.
Venezuela is in the middle of a political and economic crisis and 7 million Venezuelans have left their home country, according to the United Nations.
Officials apprehend thousands daily
U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 242,418 migrant encounters at the southern border in November, numbers similar to October’s total of 240,986. In 2022, encounters totaled 235,173 in November and 231,529 in October.
December numbers have yet to be released, but federal border officials reported a record 11,000 apprehensions a day at the southern border in December.
“It coincided with the time when Mexican enforcement was no longer implemented. The immigration enforcement agency in Mexico was not funded, which prompted President Biden to reconnect with [Mexican] President [Andres Manual Lopez] Obrador.” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters January 10.
Border encounters dropped sharply with the beginning of the new year when enforcement resumed in Mexico.
On Thursday’s call, U.S. officials said this is typically the time of year when encounters at the border decrease.
“But we also believe that the actions taken by the Mexican government are having an impact as well,” the DHS official said.
Migrant wave becomes liability
The wave of migration has become a political liability for U.S. President Joe Biden ahead of the November election. He has been under immense pressure from Republicans and some members of his own party to limit border crossings, in part to ease pressure on American cities struggling to house and feed all the new arrivals.
House Republicans have linked their demands for stricter border policies — their current top domestic priority — to the request from the White House for billions of dollars in funding to support Ukraine and Israel.
“We understand that there’s concern about the safety, security and sovereignty of Ukraine,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, told reporters after he and other congressional leaders met with Biden this week. “But the American people have those same concerns about our own domestic sovereignty and our safety and our security.”
Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate likely to compete against Biden in the November election, has launched increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail, saying that migrants crossing the border are “poisoning the blood of our country.”
A Homeland Security Department official said during Thursday’s call that the U.S. and Mexico understand that more people are displaced around the world today than at any other time since World War II.
The United Nations high commissioner for refugees says at least 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2022 worldwide because of “persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order.”
That number “includes record numbers of individuals displaced within our own hemisphere,” the DHS official said on the phone call.
“This is a challenge for us,” said the official. “And it’s also a challenge for our Mexican counterparts. We look forward to continuing our robust conversations with them on how we can work together to address what isn’t just an American challenge or a Mexican challenge but truly a regional challenge.”