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Biden to unveil regional migration plan as challenges regarding immigration mount

“Unless you have massive job creation in the formal economy, the incentive for people to remain in their home country is going to be difficult," said a former State Department official.
Image: Migrant Border Crossings At The Southern Border Continue As Judge's Title 42 Ruling Looms
Immigrants prepare to enter a Border Patrol vehicle in Arizona last month after crossing the border from Mexico.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

President Joe Biden on Friday will announce the “Los Angeles Declaration on Migration" along with regional leaders on the last day of the U.S.-hosted Summit of the Americas, in an attempt to address the challenges many countries in the hemisphere are facing with increased migration.

The declaration is a regional partnership to address historic migration flows affecting most countries in the region, a senior administration official said during a news briefing Thursday. It asks governments along the migratory route to establish and strengthen asylum processing. It also asks them to enforce their borders by conducting screenings and removing migrants who don't qualify for asylum. 

"The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection is centered around responsibility sharing and economic support for countries that have been most impacted by refugee and migration flows," said a senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters ahead of the official announcement.

It attempts to tackle migration in a coordinated way and focuses on: stability and assistance for communities, legal pathways, humane border management and coordinated emergency response.

“This is a historic moment for our country. No prior administration has assertively engaged the region to secure concrete commitments to share responsibility and act to address this regional challenge,” the official said.

The summit, held in Los Angeles this week, promoted a series of themes including economic investments and health security. But addressing migration in the region is the most complex and challenging theme tackled at the meeting.

It comes amid a stark increase in migration to the U.S. There were 1.7 million encounters in the Southwest land border during the 2021 fiscal year and 1.3 million in the first seven moths of the 2022 fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Experts say stemming migration to the U.S. is complex and requires consistency. Then-President Donald Trump, for instance slowed economic aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — countries that for decades have had high numbers of migrants going to the U.S.

“Consistency matters, messaging matters,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas think tank and a former State Department official.

“Unless you have massive job creation in the formal economy, the incentive for people to remain in their home country is going to be difficult," he said.

“It’s not going to be solved in the summit in Los Angeles. Hopefully, we can make some progress and we can create a dialogue around these issues that’s respectful," Farnsworth said. "But obviously, everything becomes politicized in the United States right away and it becomes very difficult to deal with. So it’s not easy. And I applaud the administration for looking for ways to deal with this.” 

Immigration doesn't just affect the U.S. Over 2 million Venezuelan refugees have fled to neighboring Colombia, straining resources there. Peru is also hosting a large number of migrants from Venezuela.

Colombian President Iván Duque announced at the summit on Thursday that his government has granted temporary status to 1 million Venezuelans in a little over a year.

There is no sign migration will decrease. The World Bank recently warned the global economy may be headed for years of weak growth and rising prices that could destabilize countries already struggling to recover from the pandemic.

There were notable absences at the summit. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Honduran President Xiomara Castro did not attend to protest the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the summit. The presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador did not attend either. The four countries sent their foreign ministers instead.

The majority of migrants apprehended at the Southwest border come from countries whose leaders did not attend the summit because they were either not invited or they boycotted the event in protest.

Immigration is an increasingly contentious issue domestically. The Biden administration has made changes around managing the flow of migration and processing those who have crossed the border seeking asylum. But some Trump-era policies such as Title 42, which limits asylum-seekers from entering the U.S. due to the pandemic, has not been lifted.

Biden's promise of a comprehensive immigration overhaul is unlikely to pass in a midterm election year. 

Advocacy groups are trying to draw attention to migration. Over 100 civil society groups wrote a letter to Biden and administration officials urging them to make a series of commitments on migration policy beyond the declaration, including “protecting the rights of refugees” and “protecting immigrants in the U.S.”

Mich Gonzalez, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the U.S. has put more of a focus on the bureaucracy of containing immigrants.

"In this country we have a penal model for handling migration and the government claims that the way we handle the incarceration of folks at the border is to ensure that people don't just flee into hiding and don't go to their hearings," said "But that's simply not the case. It is used more as a deterrent and it's led to a criminalization of migration, even in people's minds. Now when people hear the word immigrant, they immediately think criminal or illegal."

A migrant caravan with several thousand migrants began walking from Southern Mexico early Monday in an attempt to call attention to their plight, according to advocates. The group included 4,000 to 5,000 migrants, mostly from Central America, Cuba and Venezuela. Many of them are frustrated over Mexico’s strategy of containing them in the south of the country where there is little work and hinders their goal of reaching the U.S.

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