The Biden administration will roll out additional measures during Tuesday’s North American Leaders’ Summit in a desperate bid to keep migrants from journeying to the US southern border.
The latest slate of efforts come at a time of unprecedented movement in the Western Hemisphere and are designed to curb border crossings while making programs to legally migrate to the United States, Mexico and Canada more accessible, according to a senior administration official.
But the success of those measures is dependent on migrants seeing those options as viable, especially when urgently fleeing deteriorating conditions in their home countries.
Over the course of his presidency, Joe Biden has faced changing migration patterns that pose unique challenges to the administration and have stretched federal and local resources. The issue in turn has increasingly become a political vulnerability for the administration – which has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans and Democrats – and been a key point of discussion with partners to the south, primarily Mexico.
Leading up to Tuesday’s summit, administration officials underscored the need for a regional response that shares the responsibility of stemming the flow of migration among partners in the hemisphere. Tuesday’s announcement is a reflection of that.
The Biden administration is expected to announce a virtual platform that will serve as a one-stop shop for migrants to find information about legal pathways they might be eligible for – either in the US, Mexico or Canada – and the opening of a new resource center in southern Mexico, the senior administration official said.
“The US, Mexico, and Canada will all commit to making it possible for migrants to access our legal pathways through one platform,” the senior administration official told CNN.
The virtual portal is in part a recognition of the challenges migrants face in trying to identify legal pathways to come to the US and then navigating the often difficult and arduous process to do so. Instead, people often look to smugglers, who disseminate misinformation on US policies, to journey north – a hurdle for the Biden administration as it tries to discourage migrants from taking that route.
“This is an experiment,” the senior administration official said, citing recently launched programs for certain nationalities seeking to come to the US.
Work is underway to build out the portal and is expected to come together in the next several months.
“We’re always in competition with the smugglers, so we think having easy to access, user-friendly, virtual platforms is really important … but then centers where people can go and they know they can trust the people there and get accurate information and even be referred based on intakes and interviews,” the official added.
As part of that effort, the US is also working with Mexico to open brick-and-mortar centers where migrants can get information about how to apply to migrate to the US, mirroring the migrant resource center launched in Guatemala. A new center will be established in Tapachula, a city in southern Mexico, which thousands of migrants pass through on their way to the US-Mexico border.
“We do know that it’s a transit location and so the center can help people stay where they are, and apply from there,” the senior administration official said.
National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said Monday that migration will “be a top issue of discussion” during this week’s summit.
“There’s no doubt that migration will be a top issue of discussion here over the next 24, 36 hours. Clearly, that’s on everybody’s mind here in the hemisphere,” Kirby told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday, citing a recent commitment by Mexico to accept thousands of non-Mexican migrants who cross the border illegally and don’t apply to come to the US through new programs.
Kirby said that leaders will also discuss root causes of migration, touting Vice President Kamala Harris’ work on the issue while indicating the subject would be a major topic of conversation throughout the trip.
Tuesday’s summit builds on last year’s gathering in Los Angeles, where countries across the Western Hemisphere committed to the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. The summit was a point of contention between the US and Mexico when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador snubbed the gathering over disagreements about who was invited. Mexican officials still attended the summit.
The North American Leaders’ Summit marks the six-month anniversary of that declaration.
“We have a very ambitious agenda and that’s why the US has so many commitments on the table at the outset of this and we continue to push other countries,” the senior administration official said, stressing that the challenge won’t be solved overnight.