Biden and Latin American Leaders Announce Migration Deal
LOS ANGELES — President Biden and leaders of Latin American countries signed a new agreement on Friday to confront the consequences of mass migration, making specific numerical pledges to allow more people fleeing political and economic strife to cross their borders.
The agreement, called the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, commits the United States to taking 20,000 refugees from Latin America during the next two years, a threefold increase, according to White House officials. Mr. Biden also pledged to increase the number of seasonal worker visas from Central America and Haiti by 11,500.
“Our common humanity demands that we care for our neighbors by working together,” Mr. Biden said during the final day of the Summit of the Americas, flanked by the leaders of the other countries that signed the agreement.
“Each of us is signing up for commitments that recognize the challenges that we all share,” he said. He called the agreement “just a start,” adding, “Much more work remains, to state the obvious.”
The increase in the number of refugees and workers to be accepted into the United States represents a small fraction of the migrants who try to cross the southwestern border, a flow of thousands of migrants per day that is on pace to surpass a million people this year. But for Mr. Biden, the agreement is an attempt to reach a new consensus in which all of the countries in the region take more responsibility for those who are displaced.
In return for the pledges by the Biden administration, other countries agreed in the document to step up their efforts to allow the entry of migrants before they reach the United States. Mexico said it would accept as many as 20,000 more temporary workers and start a new program for up to 20,000 people from Guatemala who are looking for work.
Canada pledged to accept 4,000 refugees from the Americas by 2028. Spain promised to double the number of migrant workers it accepts. Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil all said they would increase their efforts to deal with an overwhelming flow of refugees fleeing political instability in Venezuela.
Guillermo Lasso, the president of Ecuador, which has accepted tens of thousands of refugees from Colombia and Venezuela in recent years, praised the effort as a good step toward supporting the countries most affected by migrants.
“I welcome this summit and the political will expressed by the heads of state and delegates here,” he said.
Taken together, the promises are a testimony to the magnitude of the problem of migration across the Western Hemisphere, where poverty, political instability, natural disasters and violence have sent millions of people fleeing their homes in search of work, shelter and safety. As part of the deal, the United States also committed to a new effort to crack down on human smuggling.
“The Los Angeles declaration is possibly the best outcome of a convening of heads of state that seemed destined to be inconsequential at best,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, the acting director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch.
She said the agreement laid out concrete commitments, but she cautioned that “its impact will depend on whether governments move beyond words on paper to concrete actions — especially the Biden administration, which continued to implement abusive migration policies even while drafting this agreement.”
Faced with an increased flow of migrants, Mr. Biden has left in place some of the harshest measures started by President Donald J. Trump, including a public health restriction on entry and a policy requiring many asylum seekers to wait in squalid camps in Mexico while their cases are heard.
The agreement announced on Friday is an attempt by Mr. Biden to find other ways to confront repeated surges of migrants at the U.S. border by casting the issue as a problem for the entire region, not just the United States.
“No nation should bear this responsibility alone,” Mr. Biden said, adding that the countries that signed the document agreed that illegal migration and human trafficking should be considered “unacceptable” and subject to new crackdowns.
“Each of our futures depend on one another,” the president said.
But the demonstration of unity at the summit was undermined by the boycott of the gathering by the leaders of Mexico and the three Central American countries that make up the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
The declaration was signed by 20 nations out of 33 in the hemisphere, including the United States and Canada. Mexico and the three Northern Triangle countries signed the agreement even though their leaders did not attend the summit. But a news release from the White House listing the specific commitments by each country did not include any from El Salvador and Honduras, which contribute heavily to the flow of migration to the United States and elsewhere.
The countries that signed the agreement have pledged to accept a small fraction of the number of people leaving their homes in search of a life elsewhere. About six million displaced Venezuelans have fled the economic and political turmoil of their home country in the last five years, to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, among other countries. Central Americans facing gang violence and climate change have sought fresh starts in Mexico as well as the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans targeted by a crackdown on dissent have moved to Costa Rica, where about 10 percent of the population consists of refugees.
The pledges from the countries in the declaration — if they materialize at all — will play out over years, not days or weeks. And the effects will almost certainly not be felt in the short term, when the United States and other countries are dealing with immediate crises at their borders.
A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Thursday night that Mr. Biden never expected all of the countries in the region to sign on to the agreement, but the official did not directly address the ones that refused.
“I hope more countries will see the potential for joining the declaration,” Mr. Biden said on Friday.
The issue of migration has been a fraught one for Mr. Biden almost since the day he took office. Within months, a surge of families and unaccompanied children trying to enter the United States overwhelmed border facilities and raised questions about the administration’s failure to ease restrictions that had been put in place by its predecessor.
The president has repeatedly been the target of attacks from Republicans, who accuse him of being too lenient at the border and of encouraging the migrants by being more welcoming than Mr. Trump was.
But he has also received fierce criticism from some of his most fervent allies, who say he should deliver on the promises he made during the presidential campaign to end the Trump-era programs.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a faith-based national nonprofit that serves refugees, praised Mr. Biden for “mobilizing the Western Hemisphere toward meaningful, actionable solutions.” But she also chided the president.
“The U.S. must recognize and address its own shortcomings in upholding its humanitarian and legal obligations,” she said, citing the Trump-era policies that remain in place. “The refugee admissions program lags woefully behind the administration’s commitments — with only 12,641 resettled toward a target of 125,000 this fiscal year ending in September.”
“And despite President Biden’s campaign promise to end the use of private immigration detention,” she added, “asylum seekers awaiting court hearings are still subjected to inhumane conditions as giant prison profiteers rake in billions of taxpayer dollars.”
Anatoly Kurmanaev and Miriam Jordan contributed reporting.