LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and his Western Hemisphere colleagues on Friday rolled out a new set of measures to tackle the regional migration crisis in a bid to salvage the divided Summit of the Americas.
Biden aides had touted the immigration declaration as a cornerstone of the Summit of the Americas hosted by the United States, and 20 countries joined in unveiling the plan — although many others turned away.
Capping the final day of the summit, the White House promoted a series of immigrant Programs agreed by the countries of the hemisphere and Spain, which attended as observers, and which pledged a more collaborative approach. But analysts were skeptical that the pledges would be meaningful enough to make much of a difference.
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These include a commitment by the United States and Canada to take in more guest workers, provide pathways for people from poor countries to work in richer countries, and other countries agree to more protections for immigrants. Mexico will also accept more workers from Central America, according to a White House statement.
“We are changing our approach to managing immigration in the Americas,” Biden said. “Each of us signs commitments that recognize the challenges we all share.”
The flags of 20 countries, far fewer than the number who attended the summit, were decorated on the stage where Biden led the launch. But this number was not achieved until days after American pressure.
It was another sign of the tensions that marred the summit, undermining Biden’s efforts to reassert American leadership and counter China’s growing economic footprint in the region.
This message was overshadowed by a boycott by several leaders, including the president of Mexico, in protest of Washington’s exclusion of left-wing US opponents Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The lineup has been reduced to 21 visiting heads of state and government.
The administration, facing a record influx of illegal immigrants at its southern border, has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to help Venezuelan immigrants, renewed family visa procedures for Cubans and Haitians, and made it easier to hire Central American workers. Read more
The announcement came as part of the unveiling of the US-led agreement dubbed the “Los Angeles Declaration” that aims to spread responsibility throughout the region to contain the immigration problem.
The plan culminates in a summit aimed at re-establishing American influence among its southern neighbors after years of relative neglect under former President Donald Trump. Biden has proposed an economic partnership to help the region recover from the pandemic pandemic — although work appears to be underway.
But as the summit opened on Thursday, leaders from Argentina and small Belize reprimanded Biden over the guest list, highlighting the challenge the global superpower faces in reclaiming its place among its poorer neighbours.
On Friday, Chile, Bolivia, the Bahamas, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Antigua and Barbuda joined, although Biden was not present.
“No one should rule out another country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who replaced President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said from the podium.
Sessions this week have regularly featured American composer John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell,” made famous by the classic British comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
‘There is nothing here’
US officials rushed to the last minute to persuade skeptical governments to support the plan.
In the declaration, the leaders pledged to “strengthen national, regional and hemisphere efforts to create conditions conducive to safe, orderly, humane and regular migration.”
Standing with fellow leaders, Biden insisted that “illegal immigration is unacceptable,” and hoped other countries would join the plan.
Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle Foundation International, called the declaration a “helpful framework” but said it would likely have limited effects in the near term because it is non-binding.
Some of the initiatives previously listed by the White House have been announced. Biden aides devised the immigration plan in part to help alleviate a labor shortage in the United States.
Jorge Castaneda, the former Mexican foreign minister, said pledges from the Americas should allow Washington to say it secured significant, “additional political” commitments for Biden. But he added, “In essence, there’s nothing here.”
Mexico, whose border with the United States is the main point of immigration, backed the declaration even though Lopez Obrador was not present.
The absence of the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the northern triangle from which many immigrants come – raised doubts about the effectiveness of the pledges. US officials insisted that voter turnout did not prevent Washington from achieving results.
The declaration includes commitments by a range of countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Belize and Ecuador. However, no mention was made of the pledges of Brazil, the most populous country in Latin America.
The announcement did not include any US pledges to provide additional work visas to Mexicans. An official said it would form part of Lopez Obrador’s visit to Biden next month.
The White House said Spain had pledged to “double the number of courses of action” in Honduras. The Madrid TWP scores 250 Hondurans, indicating that only a slight increase is envisaged.
Curbing irregular immigration is Biden’s priority. Republicans, seeking to regain control of Congress in the November elections, have ridiculed the Democratic president for reversing the restrictive immigration policies of Republican Trump.
But immigration has had to rival Biden’s other major challenges, including high inflation, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine.
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Additional reporting by Humira Pamuk, Dina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham, Matt Spitalnick, Trevor Honeycutt, Lisanda Paraguaso and Ted Hesson; Writing by Matt Spitalnick; Editing by Jonathan Otis, Alistair Bell and Grant McCall
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