LOS ANGELES – President Biden and Latin American leaders sign new agreement on Friday to address the consequences of mass migration, making specific numerical commitments to allow more people fleeing political and economic conflict to cross their borders .
The agreement, called the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, pledges the United States to host 20,000 Latin American refugees over the next two years, a threefold increase, according to White House officials. Biden also pledged to increase the number of visas for seasonal workers in Central America and Haiti by 11,500.
“Our common humanity demands that we take care of our neighbors by working together,” Biden said during the final day of the Summit of the Americas, flanked by leaders from other countries that signed the agreement.
“Each of us adheres to commitments that recognize the challenges we all share,” he said. He described the agreement as “just the beginning” and added that “there is a lot more work to be done.”
The increase in the number of refugees and workers to be accepted in the United States represents a small fraction of migrants trying to cross the southwestern border, a flow of thousands of migrants per day that is about to exceed one million people this year. . But for Mr Biden, the agreement is an attempt to reach a new consensus in which all countries in the region take more responsibility for the displaced.
In exchange for promises from the Biden administration, other countries agreed in the document to intensify their efforts to allow migrants to enter before they arrive in the United States. Mexico said it would accept up to 20,000 more temporary workers and start a new program for up to 20,000 Guatemalan job seekers.
Canada has pledged to accept 4,000 refugees from America by 2028. Spain has pledged to expand the number of migrant workers it accepts. Costa Rica and Colombia said they would step up their efforts to deal with an overwhelming flow of refugees fleeing political instability in Venezuela.
Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador, which has welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from Colombia and Venezuela in recent years, praised the effort as a good step to support countries most affected by migrants.
“So welcome to this summit and the political will expressed by the heads of state and delegates here,” he said.
Taken together, the promises are a testament to the magnitude of the problem of migration to the Western Hemisphere, where poverty, political instability, natural disasters, and violence have forced millions to flee their homes in search of work, accommodation and security. As part of the agreement, the United States also pledged a new initiative to curb human trafficking; in the past two months, under an effort led by the Department of Homeland Security, the federal government has already sent more than 1,300 people to Latin America and the southwestern border, officials said.
“The Los Angeles statement is possibly the best result of a meeting of heads of state that seemed destined to be, at best, irrelevant,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting director of the Americas division. by Human Rights Watch.
He said the agreement set out specific commitments, but warned that “its impact will depend on whether governments go beyond words on paper to concrete actions, especially the Biden administration, which continued to implement abusive migration policies. even while drafting this agreement “.
In the face of an increase in the flow of migrants, Mr. Biden has launched some of the toughest measures initiated by President Donald J. Trump, including a public health restriction on entry and a policy that forces many to asylum seekers waiting in miserable camps in Mexico while their cases are heard.
The deal announced Friday is an attempt by Mr. They try to find other ways to deal with the repeated waves of migrants on the U.S. border by posing the problem as a problem for the entire region, not just the United States.
“No nation should take that responsibility alone,” Biden said, adding that the countries that signed the document agreed that illegal immigration and human trafficking should be considered unacceptable and subject to new ones. repressions.
“Each of our futures depends on each other,” the president said.
But the demonstration of unity at the summit was undermined by the boycott of the rally of the leaders of Mexico and the three Central American countries that make up the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The declaration was signed by 20 nations, including the United States and Canada, out of more than 30 in the Americas. Mexico and the three Northern Triangle countries signed the agreement even though their leaders did not attend the summit. But a White House press release listing each country’s specific commitments did not include any from El Salvador and Honduras, which contribute greatly to the flow of migrants to the United States and elsewhere.
The press release also did not list any specific commitments from Peru and Trinidad and Tobago, which are the main recipients of Venezuelan migrants.
The signatory countries have pledged to accept a small share of the number of people leaving their homes in search of a life elsewhere. Some six million displaced Venezuelans have fled the economic and political turmoil of their home country over the past five years, to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, among other countries. Central Americans facing gang violence and climate change have sought a fresh start in Mexico and the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans repressed against dissent have moved to Costa Rica, where about 10 percent of the population is made up of refugees.
The promises of the countries in the declaration, if they materialize, will be fulfilled for years, not days or weeks. And the effects will almost certainly not be felt in the short term, when the United States and other countries face immediate crises on their borders.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Thursday night that Mr Biden never expected all countries in the region to sign the agreement, but the official did not go directly to those who refused.
“I hope more countries see the potential to join the Los Angeles Declaration,” he said. Biden Friday.
The issue of migration has been difficult for Mr Biden almost since the day he took office. Within a few months, an increase in unaccompanied families and children trying to enter the United States overflowed border facilities and raised questions about the administration’s lack of relief from the restrictions set by its predecessor.
The president has repeatedly been targeted by Republicans, who accuse him of being too lenient on the border and of encouraging migrants to be more welcoming than Mr. Trump.
But he has also received fierce criticism from some of his staunchest allies, who say he should keep his promises during the presidential campaign to end Trump-era programs.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a national non-profit organization serving refugees, praised Mr Biden for “mobilizing the Western Hemisphere towards meaningful and actionable solutions”. But he also rebuked the president.
“The United States must recognize and address its own shortcomings in meeting its humanitarian and legal obligations,” he said, citing Trump-era policies that remain in place. “The refugee admission program lags far behind the administration’s commitments, with only 12,641 resettled to a target of 125,000 this fiscal year ending in September.”
“And despite President Biden’s campaign promise to end the use of private immigration detention,” he added, “asylum seekers awaiting court hearings remain subject to inhumane conditions, as the prison giant is collecting billions of dollars from taxpayers. “
Anatoly Kurmanaev and Miriam Jordan contributed to the report.