The presidents of the United States, Joe Biden, and Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, spoke on Tuesday by telephone for about an hour, during which they discussed the imminent immigration changes in the United States and reiterated their commitment to a “humane and orderly” management of the flow of people. They also addressed drug and arms trafficking and cooperation for welfare, as indicated in a tweet by the Mexican leader himself.
The call, the first in six months between the two presidents, comes just two days before the expiration in the United States of the measure known as Title 42, imposed during the presidency of Donald Trump and which facilitated the rapid expulsions of irregular migrants, without the authorities ever accepting the asylum applications of the new arrivals, on the grounds of preventing the spread of covid. With this disappearance, migrants can now re-proceed with their asylum applications through the judicial channels, in processes that can take years to resolve but during which the petitioner remains on U.S. soil. At the same time, another measure, Title 8, will begin to be implemented, which will allow for expedited removals of those whose applications are not accepted for processing. U.S. authorities anticipate that beginning Friday thousands of immigrants will attempt entry to try their luck and, on their side, promise a “humane” and “orderly” response.
The two leaders, the White House said in a statement, discussed their efforts to strengthen the bilateral relationship, including the importance of strengthening U.S.-Mexico cooperation to manage unprecedented migration in the region. To this end, the statement adds, they discussed close coordination between border authorities and strong measures (to enforce the border) in preparation for a return to Title 8, which entails harsher consequences for those removed than for those who have been removed under Title 42.
Biden and López Obrador stressed, the text adds, the value of migration management “in a humane and orderly manner, with expanded legal avenues and consequences for irregular migration.” They also confirmed a shared commitment to address the root causes of migration in Central America and the “urgency” of effectively reducing the overcrowding of migrants on Mexico’s northern border.
In a deeply polarized country where immigration is one of the most divisive issues, the Republican opposition, which has made the fight against illegal immigration one of its major electoral banners, is calling for a firm hand and claims that “the barriers are about to be broken”. Some congressmen of this party speak of the entry of one million people in the next three months.
The U.S. Administration argues that it has been taking steps to ensure that the situation will be under control at all times. It has established temporary housing centers, made arrangements for the processing of asylum applications in Colombia and Guatemala so that migrants do not have to undertake long and dangerous journeys to reach the Mexican border to present their cases, and has agreed to accept a greater number of settlement permits, 30,000 per month, for citizens of several American countries, from Haiti to Venezuela. However, those permits are still far fewer than the number of people of those nationalities seeking to come to the United States.
Title 42 will be replaced by Title 8, which allows asylum claims if the applicant can demonstrate that he or she would suffer persecution or torture if returned to his or her country, but authorizes the expedited deportation of others and bars them from entering the U.S. for five years after removal. Last week, the Biden Administration also announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to reinforce the border guard.
The announcement of the end of the measure -implemented in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic in America- has caused hundreds of thousands of migrants of different nationalities to turn towards Mexico’s borders with the United States to try to enter U.S. territory.
True to his style, after the call with his U.S. counterpart, the Mexican president posted a message on social networks in which he briefly informed that they talked for an hour and discussed migration, cooperation for the poorest countries (and which are the main senders of migrants) and arms trafficking. “We are good neighbors and friends,” he assured in the publication, in which he attached a photograph taken during the call.
The two leaders also discussed the fight against arms trafficking and fentanyl, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the bilateral relationship. The United States is suffering from a veritable epidemic of use of this synthetic opioid - of the nearly 110,000 overdose deaths in 2021 in this country, more than two-thirds were caused by this drug - and points to Mexico as the source from which this substance arrives. The Mexican president, for his part, rejects that the fentanyl entering the United States is manufactured in his country.
Both leaders alluded to recent “enhanced and accelerated efforts to combat arms and fentanyl trafficking by dismantling criminal networks” and Biden, according to the White House, expressed his commitment to use “all available tools” to tackle arms trafficking and reduce the flow of firearms into Mexico. The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to modernize the shared border and promote inclusive economic growth.
With a year and a half to go before the U.S. elections, the positions of the political class in Washington on fentanyl trafficking have hardened. Hard-line Republican Party members of Congress are proposing to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist groups, which would open the way for the U.S. government to conduct military operations on Mexican soil to capture drug traffickers. The White House does not contemplate this possibility, but insists that Mexico must do more.
Precisely, this Tuesday the Treasury Department imposed new sanctions against one of Chapo Guzman’s sons, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, three other members of the Sinaloa cartel and two other companies for their role in drug trafficking to the United States.
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