US rolls out measures to tackle migration crisis

Published June 11, 2022
LOS ANGELES: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks aboard the USS Iowa Museum on Friday. Biden was in the Los Angeles area while taking part in the Summit of the Americas.—AFP
LOS ANGELES: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks aboard the USS Iowa Museum on Friday. Biden was in the Los Angeles area while taking part in the Summit of the Americas.—AFP

LOS ANGELES: The United States unveiled on Friday a long list of measures to confront the migration crisis as President Joe Biden and fellow leaders prepared to issue a joint declaration thrashed out at a fractious Summit of the Americas.

The White House touted a series of actions agreed by countries across the hemisphere and Spain, including programmes to take in more guest workers and to provide legal pathways for people from poorer countries to work in richer ones.

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 on the final day of the Los Angeles summit were part of a US-led pact dubbed the “Los Angeles Declaration” and aimed at creating incentives for countries taking in large numbers of migrants and spreading responsibility across the region.

But some analysts are sceptical that the pledges, some of which appear mostly symbolic, are meaningful enough to make a significant difference.

The plan caps a summit hosted by Biden that was designed to reassert US leadership and counter China’s growing economic footprint in the region.

However, that message was clouded by a partial boycott by leaders, including Mexico’s President, to protest Washington’s exclusion of US antagonists Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

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 neighbours.

On Friday, Chile, the Bahamas, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda joined the drumbeat of criticism, though Biden was not present. “We can’t have exclusions,” new Chilean leftist President Gabriel Boric said from the summit podium.

The declaration “seeks to mobilise the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas”, the White House said.

Some countries are unlikely to endorse the plan, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some Caribbean states are not expected to approve it, an official at the summit said.

US officials were expected to work right up until the rollout ceremony to persuade sceptical governments to accept, or at least not openly oppose, any of the migration provisions, another person familiar with the negotiations said.

They believe the open backlash Biden faced in Thursday’s plenary session has reinforced the determination of some leaders against caving in to American pressure over the declaration, the source familiar with the matter said.

‘Rethink’

“Addressing the unprecedented migration crisis in the region requires us to rethink how we view multilateral development finance and how we manage the strains on our economies,” the White House said.

Mexico — whose long border with the United States is the focus of irregular migration — will back the declaration, an official said, despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s no-show.

The absence from the summit of the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — the so-called Northern Triangle region from which many migrants come — has raised doubts about how effectively the proposed pledges will become reality.

US officials have said the turnout would not prevent Washington from getting results.

The declaration encompasses specific commitments by a broad 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 White House’s announcement did not include any US pledges for additional work visas for Mexicans. That would form part of the discussions when Lopez Obrador visits Biden next month.

Spain, attending as an observer, pledged to “double the number of labour pathways” for Hondurans in Madrid’s “circular migration programmes”, the White House said. Madrid’s temporary work programme enrolls only 250 Hondurans, suggesting only a small increase is envisioned.

Curbing irregular migration is a top priority for Biden, a Democrat, as the number of attempted illegal border crossings has risen to record highs.

Republicans, who hope to regain control of Congress in November midterm elections, have pilloried the president for reversing the restrictive immigration policies of Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

But migration _ as well as the summit itself _ has had to compete with Biden’s other challenges at home and abroad, including high inflation, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine.

US efforts to stem migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been hampered by corruption, with projects likely worth millions of dollars shelved.

In recent months, the Biden administration has sought to portray migration as a challenge for all of the Americas, calling on other countries to strengthen protection for asylum seekers.

Published in Dawn,June 11th, 2022

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