Journal De Bruxelles - Biden leads Americas pledge on migration after contested summit

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Biden leads Americas pledge on migration after contested summit
Biden leads Americas pledge on migration after contested summit / Photo: Jim WATSON - AFP

Biden leads Americas pledge on migration after contested summit

US President Joe Biden on Friday led a pledge by 20 nations in the Americas to work together on migration, seeking to step up action on a growing political priority at a summit beset by disputes.

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The week-long Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles wound down with promises by Biden to do more, and a joint declaration on migration that largely formalized existing arrangements rather than breaking new ground.

The declaration called for "safety and dignity of all migrants" but also greater work together by law enforcement and intelligence to combat a sharp rise in undocumented migration.

Biden -- who has promised a more humane approach than his predecessor Donald Trump -- voiced support for legal migration and announced a $65 million effort to support documented seasonal work on US farms.

"But we need to halt the dangerous and unlawful ways people are migrating," Biden said with regional leaders by his side.

"Unlawful migration is not acceptable and we will secure our borders including through innovative, coordinated actions with our regional partners."

The effort was met by praise by the top diplomat of Mexico, the critical US partner on migration due to the 3,145-kilometer (1,954-mile) shared border, even though Mexico's president conspicuously boycotted the summit.

Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said he saw "some results of the summit which are very positive in our view," pointing to Biden's calls for economic cooperation and the "regional approach on migration."

Extreme poverty, rising violence and natural disasters worsened by climate change have triggered a sharp rise in Central Americans and Haitians seeking to enter the United States.

Trump's Republican Party has seized on the issue ahead of congressional elections, denouncing migrants from developing countries and accusing Biden of failing to act effectively.

The State Department announced that the United States would resettle 20,000 verified refugees from the Americas over the next two years -- a three-fold increase but a far cry from the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees that Biden, mostly with Republican support, has pledged to take in.

The United States also announced $314 million in new funding to support some of the more than six million Venezuelans who have fled their country, whose economy has been in freefall.

- Friction over invitations -

After the prime minister of Barbados quoted Bob Marley in saying "there is so much trouble in the world," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was chairing the summit, responded in kind.

"In the words of Bob, no woman, no cry," Blinken, known for his love of music, said. "Don't shed no tears, let's act. We can sing a 'Redemption Song' together."

But the summit was also marked by discord, largely over Biden's refusal to invite the leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on the grounds that they are authoritarians.

The row was why Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to attend. The prime minister of tiny Belize directly criticized Biden on the invitations and pointedly asked him if he will follow up on lofty promises, noting the $40 billion package from the United States to support Ukraine in its war.

"We know that money is not the problem," Prime Minister John Briceno told him Thursday.

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 earlier in the summit to help 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 factors motivating migration.

Biden also met at the summit with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a first encounter with a far-right 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, told the summit that his meeting with Biden was "simply fantastic."