Migration Is Sidelined at Biden-AMLO Summit After El Paso Visit by US President

Officials said that the US and Mexican presidents discussed migration and the border in their private session, but it isn’t clear how much time they spent on the subject or in what detail they spoke

US President Joe Biden, left, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's president, at Felipe Angeles International Airport (AIFA).
By Josh Wingrove
January 11, 2023 | 04:32 PM

Bloomberg — US and Mexican cabinet officials ran out of time before discussing migration in a formal meeting in Mexico City on Monday, according to people familiar with the matter, leaving a major issue between the countries largely unaddressed.

Uncontrolled migration across the US southern border remains a political liability for President Joe Biden, and the topic was on the agenda for a formal meeting between the American leader, Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and more than two dozen of their top aides in Mexico City, officials said.

But a private talk between Biden and Lopez Obrador before the official meeting ran long, leaving the larger group — including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan — with less time than expected. Officials said that Biden and the Mexican president, known as AMLO, discussed migration and the border in their private session, but it isn’t clear how much time they spent on the subject or in what detail they spoke.

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In the larger meeting, Biden, AMLO and their cabinet secretaries spent most of their time discussing supply chains and drug smuggling, officials said.

Biden is under pressure from Republicans to crack down on migrants by expanding detention and deportations, while some of his Democratic allies want a lighter touch on people they say are fleeing despotic regimes and economic deprivation in Central and South America. Underscoring the significance of the issue, Biden arrived for the meeting with AMLO directly from his first visit to the border as president, with several top cabinet members in tow, including Mayorkas.

The White House signaled that the topic was discussed during the private meetings between the presidents.

“As it relates to migration, irregular migration, obviously that was a key topic of discussion,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday. “President Biden discussed ways our countries can continue to work together and to address irregular migration. So that conversation certainly happened, extensively.”

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GOP leaders have accused Biden of paying little more than lip service to the border crisis. The president was in office for nearly two years before visiting the border. His trip on Sunday was sanitized: Over about four hours in El Paso, Texas, he spoke to Border Patrol agents and received a demonstration of how they inspect vehicles, visited a migrant services center and spoke to its staff — and he briefly strolled along a section of border fence. He didn’t encounter any migrants.

On Tuesday in Mexico City, Biden and his team again met with AMLO and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and their top aides. That conversation focused heavily on supply chains, including cooperation on the production of semiconductors, while touching on migration, officials said.

Biden and AMLO also discussed migration on Sunday during a limo ride from the airport after the US leader’s arrival.

“We spent a lot of time talking about it,” Biden said Tuesday in a news conference to conclude the Mexico City summit. AMLO said the three leaders “did speak about migration in a very broad manner.”

There were hints of friction over the issue. Before their formal meeting, AMLO complained about US inattention to Mexico and Latin America and pleaded with the president to push Congress for an overh

aul of the US immigration system — something Biden has already tried, to no avail, and is even less likely to accomplish with Republicans in charge of the House.

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“I’ve asked President Biden to insist before the US Congress to regularize the migration situations of millions of Mexicans who have been in the States working, living in the United States, and contributing to the development of that great nation,” AMLO said.

Before his trip to the border and Mexico, Biden announced a deal with AMLO’s government to expand a humanitarian parole program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to travel to the US directly from their home countries, while refusing entry to more of them at the Mexican border.

AMLO praised the move at the news conference, pointing out that the number of Venezuelans who have tried to cross into the US from Mexico has fallen since the parole program began for their country in November.

“This is a light in the tunnel,” he said.

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--With assistance from Maya Averbuch

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