At the Summit of the Americas, all discussions have been framed by one central issue: immigration. Be it economic cooperation, democratic process, public health or even climate change, the talks at the regional meeting in Los Angeles have come back to the unprecedented immigration crisis that is affecting the region.
The United States has prepared a migration declaration that is expected to be signed at the summit on Friday, the last day of the meeting. Ahead of the declaration, Juan González, President Joe Biden’s senior adviser for Latin America, spoke to EL PAÍS by telephone about what the statement entails.
“What leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean are going to sign this Friday is unprecedented: to establish the issue of migration as a shared challenge, one in which we must address the main issues that lead people to emigrate: the economy, insecurity, lack of access to education... This is where we have to place our focus: on creating opportunities for people to want to stay at home,” said González, who is the National Security Council (NSC) senior director for the Western Hemisphere.
But the landmark declaration has been overshadowed by the fact that the presidents of the countries hardest hit by the immigration crisis – Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico – chose not to attend the Summit of Americas. Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who attended in the absence of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has shown some skepticism about the declaration. But González pointed out: “The migratory challenge is not only about the border between the United States and Mexico, and it is not only the responsibility of the United States and Mexico. We have seen countries such as Colombia where there are almost two million Venezuelans refugees, but all of South and Central America and parts of the Caribbean have been impacted by the migration problem.”
According to the senior US official, the declaration “is an agreement between the countries that are either source, transit or destination countries for migration.” The first element of the agreement is economic cooperation for development programs, an area in which organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank are expected to play a more prominent role on the grounds that they can mobilize more resources and boost direct financing to the private sector.”
The second key element is controlling irregular immigration. “Promoting our laws to ensure that people who are migrating irregularly and do not have a credible asylum request have an organized and dignified way to be returned to their countries of origin,” said González.
What we want to do is take business away from human traffickers and create channels so that someone doesn’t have to walk from Colombia or Venezuela to the United States
“The third thing,” he continued, “is to expand the capacity to support the refugee community, to create stronger asylum spaces and regular routes for immigration, because at the end of the day, we do not want to stop immigration. What we want to do is take business away from human traffickers and create channels so that someone doesn’t have to walk from Colombia or Venezuela to the United States. It is a comprehensive response to the immigration issue. Will it solve the issue tomorrow? No, it is complex and Latin America is suffering a crisis the kind of which hasn’t been seen in 100 years.”
Washington is trusting that the countries of origin and transit also see immigration as a shared responsibility. It is a step forward from Vice President Kamala Harris’s blunt message of “don’t come,” which she made during a visit to Central America.
Several regional leaders may not be present at the summit, but González said it is important to focus on the 23 presidents, 68 governments, international organizations and other guests that have come together for the meeting.
When asked about whether the United States’s influence in the region is waning, as the country becomes more concerned with the war in Ukraine and Asian policy, González said that at times of global conflict, the US has historically realigned itself with the Americas.
“We continue to be the greatest power to galvanize, formalize and organize a hemispheric response to shared challenges. When it comes to issues such as the pandemic, food insecurity and climate change, only the United States has been able to mobilize a coordinated agenda to confront these kinds of challenges around the world,” he said.
The United States is also negotiating with Spain on a deal that would see the European country commit to resettling Central American refugees. “We have a working group that went to Madrid and we have had very close cooperation on the migration issue with Spain, and in other issues concerning Latin America and the Caribbean,” said González. “As [Madrid will] host the next NATO meeting, it is something that the president and his Spanish counterpart are going to discuss, but the United States and Spain have a fluid dialogue on many issues in the hemisphere.”