Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Biden Meets Virtually w/ Mexican President as Immigration Debacle Grows

'We are not saying don’t come. We are saying don’t come now...'

(Headline USA) President Joe Biden met virtually Monday with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador—a chance for the pair to talk more fully about migration, confronting the coronavirus and cooperating on economic and national security issues.

The meeting came as Biden’s decision to dial back several of the Trump administration’s immigration policies already had begun to meet with disastrous consequences.

He drew heavy criticism last week for reinstating the controversial decision—initiated by the Obama administration before criticism forced the Trump administration to discontinue it—of housing unaccompanied minors in repurposed storage crates at a Texas detention facility.

Although former president Donald Trump had developed a friendly and productive working relationship with López Obrador, who ran as a socialist critic of America before reversing himself, Biden hoped to solicit a different type of cooperation that was more voluntary than Trump’s strong-arming, coercive approach.

“This is what I know, the United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together,” Biden told López Obrador at the outset of the meeting, alluding to past differences between the two countries. “We’re safer when we work together. Whether it’s addressing the challenges of our shared border, or getting this pandemic under control.”

Mexico’s president had said he intends during the meeting to propose to Biden a new immigrant labor program that could bring 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican and Central American immigrants a year to work legally in the United States.

A senior Biden administration official declined to say whether the U.S. president would back or oppose the proposal, saying only that both countries agree on the need to expand legal pathways for migration.

The official insisted on anonymity to discuss private conversations. Asked about the Mexican president’s proposal, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that reinstituting the Bracero program would require action by Congress.

The original “Bracero” program allowed Mexicans to work temporarily in the United States to fill labor shortages during World War II and for a couple of decades after the war.

López Obrador said the U.S. economy needs Mexican workers because of “their strength, their youth.”

On Monday, López Obrador said his new proposal would be a program not only for agriculture workers but for other sectors and professionals.

The White House also signaled that Biden was not willing to budge on another López Obrador request—to send U.S. manufactured coronavirus vaccines to his country.

Psaki said Biden would not agree to the move, saying the president was first focused on getting Americans vaccinated.

A similar posture toward Canada has also proved to be a wrinkle in that relationship.

There are also questions of whether López Obrador will warm to Biden’s efforts to address climate change and move to cleaner energy sources.

The Mexican president supports a measure to make that country’s national grids prioritize power from government plants, many of which burn coal or fuel oil.

At Monday’s news conference, López Obrador confirmed they would discuss climate change, but he said “Biden is respectful of our sovereignty” because “he doesn’t see Mexico as America’s backyard.”

The Trump era was defined by the threat of tariffs, crackdowns on migration and his desire to construct a wall on the U.S. southern border, yet Trump appeared to enjoy an amicable relationship with his Mexican counterpart.

Amid pressure from the former president, López Obrador’s government sent troops to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala to deal with an unprecedented wave of asylum-seekers bound for the U.S.

Mexico also hosted about 70,000 people seeking U.S. asylum while they waited for dates in immigration courts, a policy known as “Remain in Mexico.”

The Biden administration immediately began to unwind “Remain in Mexico,” suspending it for new arrivals on the president’s first day in office and soon after announcing that an estimated 26,000 people with still-active cases could be released in the United States while their cases played out.

But Biden, through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has kept extraordinary pandemic-related powers in place to immediately expel anyone arriving at the U.S. border from Mexico without an opportunity to seek asylum.

Mexicans and many Central Americans are typically returned to Mexico in less than two hours under Title 42 authority—so named for a section of a 1944 public health law. Biden aides have signaled they have no immediate plans to lift it.

Biden has also shown an openness to immigrants who previously came to the country illegally. He is backing a bill to give legal status and a path to citizenship to all of the estimated 11 million people in the country who don’t have it.

That has led to a renewed surge at the border, resulting in some of the migrant detention centers where new arrivals are processed already facing the problem of overcrowding.

Without the “Remain in Mexico” policy in place, immigration officials have controversially reverted back to the prior “catch and release” system. Many of those who face the unlikely prospect of having their asylum claims granted will simply disappear into the United States.

Biden also broke with Trump by supporting efforts to allow hundreds of thousands of people who came to the U.S. illegally as young children to remain in the country.

López Obrador said Saturday that an aging United States will also need temporary immigrant workers from Mexico to sustain economic growth.

He said he plans to tell Biden, “It is better that we start putting order on migratory flows.”

But pressures are building at the U.S. southern border with an increase in children crossing into the country without visas.

This has created a challenge for the Biden administration. Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day, but nearly all 7,100 beds for immigrant children maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services are full.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday sought to push back against the notion that the crisis at the border was spinning out of control.

“The men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, are working around the clock seven days a week to ensure that we do not have a crisis at the border, that we manage the challenge as acute as the challenge is, and they are not doing that alone,” Mayorkas said.

Mayorkas, who is expected to take part in Monday’s bilateral meeting, reiterated the administration’s message to migrants that now is not the time to come to the United States.

“We are not saying don’t come,” Mayorkas said. “We are saying don’t come now.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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