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Immigration, COVID key talks between Biden, Obrador

WASHINGTON, DC: Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas attends the daily press briefing at the White House Monday in Washington, DC. Mayorkas discussed Biden administration’s plans for overhauling immigration policy. – AFP

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden told his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that Mexico’s success was crucial to the hemisphere and that he would view the US southern neighbor as an equal. In a virtual summit to discuss immigration, COVID-19 and commercial issues, Biden opened talks by reminding Lopez Obrador of his four visits to Mexico as vice president. “The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together,” Biden said at the beginning of their teleconference. But “we haven’t been perfect neighbors to each other.”

During the Obama-Biden administration, he continued, “we looked at Mexico as an equal. You are equal.” Lopez Obrador thanked Biden for stressing a relationship based on mutual respect, and emphasized the two countries’ cultural, historic and trade ties. “It is important for Mexico, and we must keep on cooperating for further development based on independence and autonomy, potentializing what our peoples mean to us,” he told the US leader.

It was Biden’s second bilateral meeting with a foreign leader since becoming president on January 20. The first was with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The talks came after four years of tumultuous US-Mexico relations under former president Donald Trump, who shut down the US border to migration, tore up the NAFTA trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, and labelled Mexican immigrants drug traffickers and “rapists.” Still, the flow of migrants and trade-legal and illegal-across the US-Mexican border was to be the focus of the summit. Joining the call, were top diplomatic, security and immigration officials from both sides.

‘A joint approach’
The meeting came amid reports of a new surge of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico and its southern neighbors, as Biden eases Trump’s tough anti-immigration regime. In a joint statement after the call, the two sides agreed to work together on economic development efforts in impoverished southern Mexico and Central America, the source of most of the migrants.

They also agreed to work together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, to boost economic cooperation, and to work together on climate change, the statement said. The two countries share a porous, nearly 2,000-mile (3,200 kilometers) border, with hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of commerce annually and large numbers of daily legal crossings by individuals. But it also sees a huge level of illegal migrant crossing, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers trying to enter the United States and large amounts of illicit drug trafficking from south to north.

“Both leaders recognized the many contributions of migrants to the economic strength, cultural diversity, and innovative spirit of the United States and Mexico,” the statement said. They “committed to immigration policies that recognize the dignity of migrants and the imperative of orderly, safe, and regular migration.” The statement said nothing specific about how cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic would proceed. Mexico has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the pandemic, after the United States and Brazil, and desperately needs a larger supply of vaccines.

Asked ahead of the meeting if Washington would send vaccines to Mexico, Biden answered: “We’re going to talk about that.” Biden will need Lopez Obrador’s help as he tries to end Trump’s tough clampdown on immigration without spurring a new and unmanageable gush of migrants asking for asylum. The new US secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said Monday he was pushing to reunite migrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration.

That will require some assistance from Mexico, where many of the children’s parents were deported. The goal is “to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, human and safe immigration process,” Mayorkas said. – AFP

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