Journal De Bruxelles - US seeks migration policy agreement at close of contested summit

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US seeks migration policy agreement at close of contested summit
US seeks migration policy agreement at close of contested summit / Photo: Patrick T. FALLON - AFP

US seeks migration policy agreement at close of contested summit

The United States was Friday seeking a unified declaration on migration at the close of a week-long Americas summit that has been beset by disputes.

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Mexico and several Central American nations -- who are key players, along with Haiti, on migration to the United States -- declined to send their leaders to the week-long Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles.

But US officials said they worked with neighboring nations and expected wide support Friday for a "Los Angeles declaration" on migration.

The statement, officials said, will formalize many of the arrangements already in place amid a surge of migration into the United States.

The countries will agree to reinforce systems to process claims for asylum on their soil and also to share costs with nations that have been on the frontlines of taking in migrants.

"Each one of our countries has been impacted by unprecedented migration, and I believe it's our shared responsibility to meet this challenge," US President Joe Biden told the summit on Thursday.

Countries across the Americas will seek to boost "safe and orderly migration" and to "coordinate specific, concrete actions to secure our borders," Biden said.

Migration has been a hot-button political issue in Washington as poverty, violence and national disasters have led to a rise in Central Americans and Haitians seeking to enter the United States.

Lawmakers of former president Donald Trump's Republican Party have seized on the issue, denouncing many migrants and accusing Biden of failing to act effectively.

Migration has increasingly been felt across the hemisphere, with millions of Venezuelans also fleeing a crumbling economy.

- Friction over invitations -

The Summit of the Americas was hit by discord even before it began, as Biden refused to invite the leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on the grounds that they are authoritarians.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador boycotted the summit to protest the exclusions, and leaders criticized the decision to Biden's face in a plenary session on Thursday.

"Being the host country of the summit doesn't grant the ability to impose a right of admission on member countries of the continent," said Argentina's center-left president, Alberto Fernandez, who attended after a personal appeal by Biden.

The prime minister of tiny Belize, John Briceno, directly criticized Biden and told him that longstanding US sanctions on communist Cuba were a "crime against humanity."

Biden, who applauded politely and greeted each leader, returned to the podium to say that his agenda was on track.

"Notwithstanding some of the disagreements relating to participation, on the substantive matters, what I heard was almost unity and uniformity," the US president said.

Biden called the summit in the face of rising Chinese influence in a region that the United States has long considered its home turf.

But the Biden administration has steered clear of big-dollar announcements and instead focused on broad declarations and pledged to work out specifics later.

The administration promised during the week-long summit to work to train 500,000 health workers in the Americas and unveiled $1.9 billion in private funding for Central America to create jobs and stem some of the push factors of migration.

Biden also met at the summit with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a first encounter with a leader who has questioned not only the legitimacy of upcoming elections at home but also of the US polls in which Biden defeated Trump.

Bolsonaro, who was one of Trump's closest international allies, is trailing in polls ahead of October elections.

But he said that he was pleasantly surprised by his meeting Thursday with Biden and looked forward to further talks.