Biden calls for unity to address migration crisis in the Americas

Twenty nations have signed the Los Angeles declaration which includes concrete commitments on refugee resettlement and expanding legal pathways

Joe Biden en la Cumbre de las Américas
US President Joe Biden at the Summit of the Americas.Alberto Valdes (EFE)

US President Joe Biden presented on Friday, the last day of the Summit of the Americas, a much-anticipated document aimed at addressing the migration crisis in the region. The document, called the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, creates a regional migration system and outlines the specific commitments that countries have made over the course of the three-day summit.

“With this declaration, we’re transforming the approach to managing migration in the Americas,” Biden said, flanked by other leaders. “It’s going to take all of our nations working together in partnership to address this migration issue.”

The declaration has been endorsed by the leaders of 20 nations at the summit, which was marked by the noticeable absence of the presidents of countries such as Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua. What’s more, some of the nations that attended the regional meeting, including Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, did not sign the document. Despite this, Biden said the declaration has the approval of all countries along the migration route: from Chile to Canada.

“More will join as we go forward,” said Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, at a press conference on Friday. Blinken, who was a speechwriter for former US president Bill Clinton when the first Summit of the Americas was held in 1994, described the Los Angeles declaration as the “first truly regional approach to migration.”

“This is the first time that we have come together across the hemisphere to take shared responsibility for the migration challenge – countries of origin, transit countries, countries of destination,” he said. “This is a significant step forward, in my judgment, because it promises more effective action in making sure that we have humane, orderly, safe migration.”

At the press conference, Blinken also spoke about the other measures that were adopted during the summit, including a commitment from the private sector to invest $3.2 billion in countries of northern Central America and reforms that will allow the Inter-American Development Bank to invest in middle-income countries.

“We know that safe, orderly, legal migration is good for all our economies. We need to halt the dangerous and unlawful ways people are migrating, the dangerous ways,” added Biden. “Unlawful migration is not acceptable, and we’ll secure our borders, including through innovative, coordinated actions with our regional partners.”

Since Biden was elected to the White House, illegal border crossings to the United States have hit record-highs – partly due to the perception that Biden would take a softer approach to illegal immigration than his predecessor, Donald Trump. The US president also blamed the situation on the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the political turmoil caused by “the autocracies” in the region.

This perfect storm of factors has led to record levels of migration, and not just in the United States. Colombia has received millions of refugees from Venezuela and up to 10% of the population in Costa Rica is made up of migrants, mainly from Nicaragua. The president of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, said that his country has granted asylum to 72,00 refugees, most of them from Colombia. Ecuador is the Latin American country that receives the highest number of refugees in the region. Northern Mexico has also been hit by the crisis, with dozens of Haitians arriving at the border every day in the hopes of entering the US. Hundreds of Haitians were also stranded in Cuba as they tried to flee to Florida.

“No nation should bear this responsibility alone,” said Biden of Friday.

The Los Angeles Declaration is based on four pillars: stability and assistance for communities; expansion of legal pathways; humane border management; and coordinated emergency response.

To ensure the summit led to concrete outcomes, Biden called on the attending nations to commit to measures to address the migration crisis. Most agreed. Mexico, for example, announced it will launch a new temporary labor program providing work opportunities for 15,000 to 20,000 workers from Guatemala, and expanded its border worker program to include an additional 10,000 to 20,000 beneficiaries, which will benefit citizens of Central American countries. Canada committed to resettling up to 4,000 refugees from the Americas by 2028, a number that has been criticized for being too low. Meanwhile, the United States committed to resettling 20,000 refugees in the next two years.

Crisis in Haiti

Luis Abinader, the president of the Dominican Republic, dedicated the first part of his summit speech to calling on the international community to help the neighboring country of Haiti, which is the poorest in the region. The small Caribbean country has seen a mass exodus triggered by a series of natural disasters and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

Abinader said that the international community must show “greater commitment” to helping Haiti recover from its socio-political crisis. He pointed out that “historically” Haiti has paid “very dearly” for its debts with developed countries.

“It is unjustifiable for me and our government that this community of nations allows a state, in the middle of the American continent, to have a large part of its territory controlled by criminal gangs,” said Abinader, who did not sign the Los Angeles declaration.

On Tuesday, during a forum with journalists, Secretary Blinken was asked to explain why the US invited Haitian leader Ariel Henry to attend the Summit of the Americas, when he is ruling with no mandate in contravention of the nation’s constitution. Blinken responded that the US “continues to work for a transition that leads to appropriate elections that are supported by all the Haitian people.”

He added: “We continue to work to deal with gang violence that is afflicting the country and is doing terrible damage to the Haitian people [...] We want to see them have a truly representative government, and that goes down the path of getting to new elections in the coming time.”

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