Biden Urges Mexico to Do More to Stop Migration

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The Biden administration has been quietly pressing Mexico to ramp up its efforts to limit the flow of migrants, clinging to a Trump policy of relying on southern neighbors to enforce America’s immigration agenda.

MEXICO CITY — The Biden administration has been quietly pressing Mexico to curb the stream of migrants coming to the United States, urging it to take in more families being expelled by American authorities and to step up enforcement at its southern border with Guatemala, according to Mexican officials and others briefed on the discussions.

President Biden has moved quickly to dismantle some of former President Trump’s signature immigration policies, halting construction of a border wall, stopping the swift expulsion of children at the border and proposing a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the United States.

But he is clinging to a central element of Mr. Trump’s agenda: relying on Mexico to restrain a wave of people making their way to the United States.

Anticipating a surge of migrants and the most apprehensions by American agents at the border in two decades, Mr. Biden asked President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in a video call this month whether more could be done to help solve the problem, according to Mexican officials and another person briefed on the conversation.

The two presidents also discussed the possibility of the United States sending Mexico some of its surplus vaccine supply, a senior Mexican official said. Mexico has publicly asked the Biden administration to send it doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been approved for use in the United States.

Mexican officials contend that the efforts to secure vaccines are separate from the negotiations over migration. But they acknowledge that relations between the United States and Mexico, which has suffered one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus epidemics, would be buoyed by a shipment of doses south.

“Both governments cooperate on the basis of an orderly, safe and regular migration system,” Roberto Velasco, director general for the North America region at Mexico’s foreign ministry, said in a statement, referring to the engagement between the two countries on migration and vaccines.

But he said there was no quid pro quo for vaccines: “These are two separate issues, as we look for a more humane migratory system and enhanced cooperation against COVID-19, for the benefit of our two countries and the region.”

A Biden administration official declined to comment on discussions with Mexico, but noted that both countries shared a common goal of reducing migration by addressing its root causes, and said they were working closely to stem the flow of people streaming to the border.

On the question of vaccines, a White House official said the United States was assessing how to provide doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Mexico and Canada.

Mexico has agreed to increase its presence on its southern border with Guatemala to deter migration from Central America, one of the government officials said, and local Mexican officials say their country has recently stepped up efforts to stop migrants on the northern border with the United States as well.

But there are also signs that Mexico’s commitment to policing migration — a central demand of Mr. Trump, who wielded the threat of tariffs against all Mexican goods unless migration was curbed — may have flagged in the waning months of the Trump administration.

From October through December of last year, the number of Central Americans apprehended by Mexico declined, while detentions by American agents increased, according to Mexican government numbers and data compiled by The Washington Office on Latin America, a research organization that advocates for human rights.

“The likelihood of the outgoing Trump administration threatening tariffs again was low, so there was an incentive for Mexico to go back to its default state of low apprehensions,” said Adam Isacson, an expert on border security at The Washington Office on Latin America.

The Biden administration’s appeal to do more against migration has put Mexico in a difficult position. While Mr. Trump strong-armed Mexico into militarizing the border, some Mexican officials argue that his harsh policies may have at times helped lessen their load by deterring migrants from attempting to make the journey north.

 

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