As the United States faces record numbers of migrants crossing the southern border and with fentanyl overdoses claiming American lives, all eyes will be on President Joe Biden this week as he meets with the leaders of Mexico and Canada for the North American Leaders’ Summit.
Biden’s meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes a day after the president stopped to visit the border in El Paso, Texas, where scores of migrants are wandering the streets homeless while local officials strapped for cash struggle to tackle a growing crisis.
All the while, Biden will be watched closely by House Republicans who have waited two years to take on Biden’s immigration policies and have plans to bring Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas up to Capitol Hill to answer the new majority’s questions.
The meeting between the three leaders also comes as the United States is seeking to repair relations. Biden’s relationship with Mexico, in particular, has faced several hiccups over the past year after López Obrador skipped out on the Summit of the Americas last yearand has continued flirting with Russia even as Putin’s war in Ukraine nears the year mark.
Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico who served as Biden’s coordinator for the southwest border on the National Security Council early in the administration, said this will be a moment for Biden to show how much work has gone into rebuilding the relationship between both countries.
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“With all of its warts, this relationship is actually in a somewhat better place than a lot of people think,” Jacobson told USA TODAY. “There are a lot of things that the two governments are working on of great importance to the United States.”
But with migration, fentanyl, threats to democracy and climate change – especially since once-climate leader López Obrador turned to buying coal – stakes remain high for the commander in chief.
US President Joe Biden meets with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Oval Office of the White House on July 12, 2022, in Washington, DC.
With record levels of migrants, many coming from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, coming to the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration will be top of mind in the meetings between Biden and López Obrador.
Although Mexico had previously deployed national guard troops to the country’s southern border to help process migrants coming from Guatemala, the two leaders will likely continue to discuss more efforts Mexico can take to stop migrants from coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said Mexico’s current strategy has not stemmed the flow of migrants.
According to Customs and Border Protection data, officials had 233,740 encounters of migrants in November 2022 on the southwest border.
“If the Biden administration thought that it was in any way getting Mexico’s cooperation, the numbers do not show it,” Payan said. “So clearly, they’re going to have to talk about that and they’re going to have to talk about whether Mexico is serious about immigration or not.”
Ahead of the summit in Mexico City, Biden announced a new parole program for individuals from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba who are trying to seek asylum in the United States.
As part of the announcement, Biden noted that Mexico would accept 30,000 Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans per month – something the government had not been doing following surges of those nationalities to the border.
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The plan indicates that Mexico is willing to work with the United States to help address migration issues.
The leaders could likely discuss the capacity of each country’s asylum systems, as well as how to better process people to help them find their path forward in the asylum process for either country, said Shannon O’Neil, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mexico’s role in immigration has become larger as it is now also a destination country for people seeking asylum, said Jacobson.
“Mexico is not just a sending or a transit country anymore, but also a destination country,” Jacobson said. “In some ways, I think the three countries have more in common on migration than ever before.”