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Will the North American Leaders Summit be a substantive change for immigration policy?

President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the North American Leaders Summit on January 10 to discuss the relationship between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The meeting largely focused on immigration. In this interview, Ariel Ruiz Soto, a political analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, talks about the summit and the significant political changes that may emerge.

North American Leaders Summit
President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on January 10 to discuss the relationship between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. (White House Photo) Via Ethnic Media Services.

By Sunita Sohrabji. Ethnic Media Services.

During the presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised sweeping changes to immigration policy, including the immediate repeal of the Trump-era Title 42 policy. However, two years later, the policy has not been repealed. Last week, President Biden announced tougher restrictions on migrants trying to cross the US-Mexico border without the necessary immigration documents. The announcement came ahead of his visit to the US-Mexico border and meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on January 10 afternoon in Ciudad de Mexico.

The three leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including immigration, climate change, economic policy that would encourage migrants to stay in Mexico and trafficking in the opioid drug fentanyl, among other issues. Unsurprisingly, immigration dominated the debate.

“This is the moment for us to determine to put an end to this abandonment, this disdain and this forgetfulness of Latin America and the Caribbean,” López Obrador said on January 9, before the meeting.

While Biden and Trudeau met with López Obrador, Ethnic Media Services sat down with Ariel Ruiz Soto, a political analyst at the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) to discuss the summit. Soto works with the United States Immigration Policy Program and the Latin American and Caribbean Initiative.

Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, political analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. (MPI photo)

Her research examines the interaction of immigration policies in the region stretching from Panama to Canada, as well as their intended and unintended consequences for foreign-born and native-born populations. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

EMS: What were your main priorities for this summit?

ARS: There are a few things that we've been tracking that have been really key to this event. One of them is to understand what is the Mexican strategy regarding the application of immigration laws in the future. What could happen if, for example, Title 42 is upheld and Mexico decides to continue accepting expedited removals from the US to Mexico. On what terms and for how long?

The second component refers specifically to Mexican reforms not only regarding visas or US visas and access routes not only from Mexico to the United States, but also from Central America to Mexico. Mexico had promised to provide greater access and legal pathways to Central Americans in that country.

On the Canadian front, we want to know about the new commitments from the Canadian government to accept the resettlement of refugees from Central and Latin America. Canada has committed to increasing refugee resettlement to between 2% and 10%. But in reality they tend to be small numbers and obviously for all of Latin America, a very significant geographical region, it can be down to hundreds or small thousands per country.

Invest in Mexico

Finally, what about investment in the region? When the Biden administration came to power, there was a big call to try to rejuvenate investment efforts in the region in order to address the root causes of out-migration.

But it seems that that priority has been relegated to the background and that now the issues related to control and law enforcement have come to the fore in that debate. But ideally, Mexico, Canada and the United States would already have suggested plans to invest and provide resources to the most devastated communities.

Those are the big aspects of what you would expect from all of this. What we've seen in the White House reading and in the press about it are more general commitments to continue the discussions, but also to keep moving forward on the principles, including some that have already been identified in the Los Angeles Declaration.

EMS: What concrete advances await us?

ARS: One of them is the announcement to create a virtual platform on the legal ways that exist to migrate to the United States, Mexico and Canada. This announcement of a virtual platform between the three countries to see the legal pathways? It will not be the solution to the flows at the border, but it will create some order, specifically for some groups that would otherwise risk their migratory journey through a smuggler.

There is another development: the creation of a new center in southern Mexico to discuss access to legal avenues and partnerships with the support of the Mexican private sector. Basically, it is about putting migrants or potential migrants in contact with economic options so that they consider the possibility of staying on the Central American side of Guatemala or in Mexico before trying to continue north.

It's not a new strategy, but it's a good one. The private sector should get more involved.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sits with President Joe Biden on January 10 in Mexico City. (White House photo).

EMS: Does Mexico have the necessary resources to absorb the enormous number of migrants that it now has to house and welcome?

ARS: It is clear that Mexico does not have the necessary resources to integrate the migrants it receives from the United States. It does not have the capacity of shelters in Mexico. Most of the shelters are run by civil society organizations and mostly through humanitarian programs or church affiliations.

But many migrants who are going to be expelled to Mexico are unlikely to stay in Mexico for the long term, especially if they are Cuban because they have reasonably sized family connections, networks, and financial access to the diaspora in Miami and elsewhere in the United States.

Most likely they will try to break in multiple times. Title 42 expulsions mean that there are no consequences in the process for immigrants and, therefore, they can try it four, five, six or seven times, as Mexicans do today.


In contrast, Venezuelans know very little about the United States. They have some family ties, but not many. And after going through a major journey, many of them just get frustrated and tired by the process and want to go home.

So the question you ask has two parts. One is whether Mexico has the necessary resources. But I don't think the migrants who are expelled to Mexico want to stay there anyway.

Ken Salazar, the US ambassador to Mexico, has said that some $23 million will go to foster organizations on the Mexican side of the border. It is a good progress, although I would like to know how they will be disbursed and what requirements will be imposed on the organizations that receive the funds.

EMS: President Biden announced on January 5 the continuation of Title 42, with tougher penalties for immigrants who try to enter the US without papers. The proposal also allows 30,000 immigrants from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti to enter the country each month as part of a humanitarian parole program. How would you rate the political changes?

ARS: Let's be frank. Even 30,000 people a month is not enough to contain the flows or to receive the flows that are coming to the border with Mexico when we are seeing more than 70,000 a month.

But the US immigration system doesn't really have any other tools to provide border enforcement control at this point that would apply to these hemispheric flows. It does not have sufficient capacity to return immigrants to other countries, not even directly in the context of regular expulsion.

And probation? Although it is an important tool? it is not enough in the long term. Parole does not necessarily mean that people, after the two years allotted to enter the country, actually have a meaningful way to stay. This has not been the case with the Ukrainians. This has not been the case for Afghan migrants, and it may not be the case for Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians.

Title 42 is untenable

In last week's announcement, President Biden was trying to figure out how to ignite a more cohesive response with Mexico and Canada so that short-term measures actually buy and buy some time for long-term exits. But I don't think anyone believes that Title 42 expansion is sustainable, not only because of the courts, but also because the flows keep changing. We are seeing increasing numbers of Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians: it would be unrealistic to believe that expanding parole to Peruvians, Colombians, and Ecuadorians would essentially be the solution to everything we are seeing at the border.

EMS: What does a humane immigration policy look like? And considering that the House of Representatives and the Senate are very divided, can we expect to see it in 2023?

ARS: A humanitarian approach to migration by Congress would imply, firstly, improving access to asylum and, secondly, providing more resources to the organizations and communities most impacted by the arrival of migrants at the Mexico-Mexico border. United States, but also in the interior. I think we are far from that reality.

Unfortunately, the Republican-led House of Representatives and the Democratic-led Senate are likely at an impasse over what to do in terms of providing humanitarian access. We've seen this before. It's nothing new.

Republicans often refuse to talk about immigration until the border is secure. And there isn't really a definition of what a secure border means, unfortunately. And then the Democrats often just rely on regularization and providing benefits to immigrants instead of also considering options to improve control on the US-Mexico border. So that tension and that stagnation will continue.

Increase resources at the border

Now, that doesn't mean there can't be smaller pieces of regulation that can work together. Democrats and Republicans agree that there needs to be better technology to screen and process immigrants as they arrive at the US-Mexico border. Both agree to increase the number of Customs and Border Patrol officers, as well as US immigration agents and immigration judges. And both agree that reception and detention capacity, as well as resources and technology, are severely underfunded at the US-Mexico border.

These are things I think you can agree on, but they tend to be secondary to each party's main priorities and therefore lead to deadlock.

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Peninsula 360 Press
Peninsula 360 Presshttps://peninsula360press.com
Study of cross-cultural digital communication


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