US and Mexico discuss immigration in high level meetings

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MEXICO CITY (AP) – A U.S. delegation discussed immigration and regional development in a series of meetings in Mexico Tuesday at a time when rising numbers of migrants arriving at their shared border has raised concerns in both countries.

The administration of President Joe Biden is worried about the number of migrant families and especially, unaccompanied children, arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.

Former U.S. ambassador Roberta Jacobson, the White House’s lead adviser on the border, and Juan González, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, were accompanied by Ricardo Zúñiga, the newly named Special Envoy for the Northern Triangle.

The new U.S. administration has started to dismantle Trump-era policies that made it more difficult for asylum seekers, but have maintained some like the pandemic-related policy invoked by Trump that allowed it to continue to return the majority of border crossers to Mexico.

In a meeting with Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, the two delegations discussed “humanitarian actions to spur, in the short term, an inclusive economic development in northern Central America,” according to a statement released by the Mexican government.

The so-called Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been the largest source of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border in recent years. Plagued by endemic corruption and violence, and more recently devastated by two major hurricanes in November and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, migrants continue to stream out of those countries.

Confusion and misinformation over Biden’s seemingly more humane approach to immigrants and asylum seekers has been a contributing factor. Many migrants sensing a change in attitude from the heavy-handed Trump policies set out during the first months of the year to try their luck.

Meanwhile, Mexico finds itself once again under pressure to slow the movement of migrants across its territory. Last week, the government announced it was imposing new measures at its southern border that would permit only essential crossings due to pandemic concerns. But coming a year after the start of the pandemic many observers saw it only as a cover for more immigration enforcement.

At the same time, Mexico deployed more immigration agents to the south and said it would focus on intercepting unaccompanied children and families with children trying to reach the northern border. That announcement was criticized for coming on the same day that the U.S. agreed to send COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico.

In 2019, Mexico deployed its newly created National Guard to bolster immigration enforcement under pressure from the Trump administration, which had threatened crippling tariffs on all Mexican imports.

The Biden administration is taking a more diplomatic approach, but similarly needs Mexico’s cooperation. Mexico has faced criticism for essentially extending U.S. immigration policy to its own southern border. In return, Mexico has pushed the U.S. government to support more development projects in the region. Biden has spoken of sending $4 billion in development aid.

Both sides they were focused on protecting the human rights of migrants, but ensuring a safe and orderly migration. Ultimately, they want to reduce the push factors driving migrants from their countries. The focus has been on economic factors, but yet to be seen is how the new U.S. administration will address touchier subjects like corruption in the region.

In another meeting Tuesday, the U.S. delegation discussed those aid efforts with representatives of Mexico’s international development agency and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a final meeting with Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, the two sides talked about “the challenges of designing a migration model that protects human rights, as well as the necessity of implementing incentives to reach the shared objective of an orderly, safe and regular migration,” the statement said.

Part of the U.S. delegation was scheduled to hold meetings in Guatemala Wednesday.

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