US, Latin America developing migration pact to address surge

Migrants heading to the US making a stop in Alvaro Obregon, Mexico, on June 6, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States, Latin America and Caribbean nations are working on a pact to reduce and manage undocumented migration that they will announce at a summit this week as the Biden administration faces a surge in arrivals.

The group is discussing commitments to provide financial support for nations dealing with an influx of migrants, improving cooperation on controlling flows and providing legal jobs, according to a draft of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection being reviewed by participants and seen by Bloomberg News.

The declaration, while written by US officials, is the result of months of work to build consensus among countries in the region and incorporates their input, according to people familiar with the plan, who asked not to be identified without permission to speak publicly.

The document is still under negotiation, and it isn't clear if all nations attending the summit will sign on, since not all are affected by migration in the same way, the people said.

The commitment is intended to be one of the deliverables from the Summit of the Americas for Western Hemisphere nations that US President Joe Biden is hosting in California.

The declaration is part of a larger focus on regional economic, health and food security issues that will be discussed at the summit, the people said.

A senior Biden administration official, who asked not to be named in order to discuss the initiative, confirmed on Monday (June 6) that the president plans to sign the migration declaration on Friday. The US is very confident that the countries that sign onto it will be committed to its goal, the official said.

Bloomberg News reported last month that the Biden administration is working on an economic framework that will address subjects including so-called nearshoring and supply-chain vulnerabilities revealed by the pandemic, seeking to set a new course for integration with the region.

The proposed pledges also include improving access to public and private services for migrants, refugees, and stateless persons to promote their full social and economic inclusion in host communities, according to the document.

Public attention in the lead-up to the summit has focused more on who's coming than the actual substance.

Leaders from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia and others are scheduled to attend the gathering, but Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had said he planned to skip it unless the US invites all countries.

The Biden administration decided against including the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua based on concerns about their lack of democracy and respect for human rights. Lopez Obrador is following through on his threat to boycott the event, he said Monday at his daily news conference.

The summit comes as US authorities encountered more than 230,000 undocumented migrants on its almost 2,000-mile border with Mexico in April alone. Arrivals in recent months have soared to the highest level in two decades, according to US Customs and Border Protection. Cooperation is key as many migrants either come from South America, Central America and Mexico or transit there as they make their way to the US.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard will represent Mexico in Lopez Obrador's absence, the Biden administration senior official said. Mexico is among the countries that the US government expects to sign the migration declaration, the official said.

To confront the challenges, summit participants would convene multilateral development banks, international financial institutions and new donors to review ways to support countries hosting migrants, according to the document. Nations would improve regional cooperation mechanisms for law enforcement, information sharing and border management, visa regimes and regularisation processes, it said.

They also would commit to strengthening and expanding temporary labour migration pathways - a point that has been championed by Lopez Obrador. That includes using new programmes that promote connections between employers and migrant workers.

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