As the United States and Mexico vowed Thursday to work together more closely to tackle record migration at their shared border, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers continued to head toward the crossing, underscoring the urgency of the issue.
The countries said in a joint statement they would seek to strengthen a sponsorship initiative for Venezuelan, Cuban, Nicaraguan and Haitian migrants and look to tackle the root causes of migration, a day after a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his government in Mexico City. More talks are scheduled in Washington next month.
The talks came after the U.S. temporarily shuttered two vital Texas railway crossings to redeploy agents toward enforcement amid a surge of illegal migrant crossings. A non-rail crossing remained closed at Lukeville, Ariz., and border operations were partially suspended at San Diego and Nogales, Ariz.
The closures sparked a trade slowdown that stung Mexican industries, as well as criticism of the Biden administration’s border policies.
El Paso, Texas at ‘breaking point’ as asylum seekers flood across border, mayor says
Earlier Thursday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the two parties had agreed to keep border crossings open after the temporary closures.
“This agreement has been reached, the rail crossings and the border bridges are already being opened to normalize the situation,” Lopez Obrador told a morning press conference.
Lopez Obrador said Wednesday’s meetings with the U.S. delegation were “direct.”
As Lopez Obrador spoke, a large group of migrants and asylum seekers, many with small children, were trekking across Mexico toward the southern U.S. border. Some in the group held a banner reading “Exodus from poverty.”
Mexican National Guard members made no attempt last weekend to stop the so-called caravan of roughly 6,000 people, many from Central America and Venezuela, from walking through Mexico’s main inland immigration inspection point in southern Chiapas state near the Guatemala border.
Lopez Obrador said Thursday the group had shrunk to about 1,600 people.
Migrants and asylum seekers transit through Mexico to the U.S. to escape violence, economic distress and negative impacts of climate change, according the United Nations. Although a majority come from Central and Latin American countries, people from China and several African countries have also been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months.
The number of people crossing the perilous Darien Gap straddling Colombia and Central America has topped half a million this year, double last year’s record.
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In the past, Mexico has let such migrant caravans go through, trusting they would tire themselves out walking along the highway. But that strategy appears to no longer be working.
This month, as many as 10,000 migrants were arrested daily on the southwest U.S. border. The U.S. has struggled to process them at the border and house them once they reach northern cities.
Republicans are currently pushing for strict limits on asylum claims and other measures to stem border crossings, and are blocking new military funding for Ukraine as leverage for the proposals.
U.S. President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve close to US$110 billion in national security funding that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific and U.S. border security. But Republicans are insisting any new foreign aid should be tied to immigration policy changes, arguing national security starts at the domestic border.
Immigration policy experts have told Global News addressing the root causes of migration, which the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to do this week, is vitally important.
“These are individuals who are desperate, the vast majority of whom are fleeing violence,” Bill Hing, an immigration law professor at the University of San Francisco and founder of the Immigration and Legal Resource Center, said in a previous interview about the migrants seeking entry into the U.S.
“They’re not coming here for an adventure.”
Lopez Obrador said Thursday he is willing to help but wants the United States to send more development aid to migrants’ home countries, reduce or eliminate sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, and start a U.S.-Cuba dialogue.
The U.S.-Mexico joint statement included no specific measures either country will take that would address the root causes of immigration.
The United States has been pressing Mexico to do more to combat fentanyl trafficking, while Mexico has been pushing for stronger U.S. controls to prevent U.S. firearms from reaching the powerful cartels.
Lopez Obrador said the issue of fentanyl, a powerful and deadly opioid that Mexican cartels have been trafficking into the U.S., was “hardly discussed” in Wednesday’s meeting. The joint statement made no mention of fentanyl or other drug smuggling.
—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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