Summit of the Americas: Biden’s attempt to unite the region on migration gets off to a shaky start
The ninth Summit of the Americas, hosted by the Joe Biden in Los Angeles from June 6 to 10, was overshadowed by US president’s decision not to invite the presidents of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The reason given for this was antidemocratic leadership and disrespect for human rights in those countries. But you might question this exclusion if you believe that the main democratic principles include freedom of association, speech and inclusiveness.
In his remarks at the opening plenary of the summit, Biden emphasised on various occasions the importance of working together and collaboration between the North, Central and South America when tackling regional issues, such as economic, climate and migration crises, among others. But the decision to exclude the three countries led several other leaders to boycott the event in solidarity. Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), as well as the presidents of El Salvador (Nayib Bukele), Honduras (Xiomara Castro), and Guatemala (Alejandro Giammattei), also skipped the event.
Mexico is an interesting case. After a rocky start, AMLO managed to build a friendly relationship with Donald Trump during his time in the White House. But he hasn’t struck up such an easy relationship with Biden. This might seem counter-intuitive when you consider that while Trump had a zero-tolerance migration policy, Biden is looking to introduce a more humane immigration system.
AMLO’s respect for Trump was reflected by Latino voters in the 2020 presidential election in which he won the border state of Texas and in Florida, the US states with the high population of Latinos, predominantly Mexican-American and Cuban and Venezuelan-American, respectively.
New economic plan
Biden used the summit to launch a new economic partnership plan, “Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity”. This, he said, would aim to grow economies from the bottom up: developing innovation, strengthening supply chains and aiming to prioritise the growth of the green economy, with jobs in producing clean energy and protecting biodiversity.
Biden also announced his plans to combat corruption in the region and promote the rule of law, forging a partnership with Latin American countries to fight the powerful transnational criminal organisations, drug traffickers and the illegal weapons trade. Cooperation would also aim to improve healthcare provision across the region and increase food production. The idea, in a nutshell, is to improve the quality of life and security in Latin America to the extent that illegal migration to America would fall as people enjoy better conditions in their own countries.
Experts are divided
At face value, so far, so positive. But the director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University in Texas, Tony Payan, thinks the plans outlined at the summit have little chance of having the desired impact, especially when it comes to migration. He believes the western hemisphere is too politically divided and chaotic to make any real progress in these areas. Payan told me: “For now, no matter how well intentioned the declarations may be, their words will fade away with little to no accomplishments.”
On the other hand, the president of the Migration Policy Institute, Andrew Selee, believes that a declaration signed by 20 nations at the end of the summit, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection marks a “significant step forward in creating a common language and a coherent set of ideas for more cooperatively managing migration movements across the Americas”.
Will it work?
The goal of The Los Angeles Declaration is to control and regularise an unauthorised migration through the American continent by shared responsibility among all countries. It suggests some concrete metrics as targets for the programme. For example, the US will invest US$314 million (£260 million) of humanitarian help for vulnerable refugees and migrants. In addition the US has pledged to accept a further 20,000 refugees in the next two years. An additional US$65 million will be used to promote temporary work among Haitian and Central American temporary workers.
The Los Angeles Declaration not only talks about possible solutions to migration to the US, but also between Latin American countries. Mexico, whose secretary of foreign affairs Marcelo Ebrard attended, has pledged to include 20,000 refugees from Central America and Haiti in its labour market. By the end of August 2022, Colombia will assign regularisation permits to 1.5 million of refugees and migrants from Venezuela.
But the declaration also has its limitations. The executive director of the pro-migrant foundation América Sin Muros (America Without Walls), Bernardo Méndez-Lugo, told me he thinks US money and increased working visas will simply not be enough for millions of needy migrants who take the illegal road towards a better life. He also pointed out that the agreement doesn’t specify how the US will legalise the status of the 5 million irregular Mexican migrants or the 2 million irregular migrants from Central American countries already in the US. Nothing has been settled to resolve the status of the 600,000 “dreamers” – the children of illegal migrants who have grown up in the US or the hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans with temporary protected status in the US.
So while the declaration is no doubt a stepping stone to solving the migration crisis in the Americas, the commitment will need to be followed up with concrete actions from the whole region. It will bear fruit only if all countries are united. And, of course, the absence of significant players in this issue from the summit is not a good sign that the Americas are on the same page when it comes to solving the irregular migration crisis.
I am currently a member of Liberal Democrats, but this will change.