© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden speaks while hosting a dinner at the Getty Villa for leaders and their spouses at the Summit of the Americas, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 9, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham and Matt Spetalnick
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -The United States on Friday unveiled a long list of measures to confront the migration crisis as President Joe Biden and fellow leaders prepared to issue a joint declaration thrashed out at a fractious Summit of the Americas.
The White House touted a series of actions agreed by countries across the hemisphere and Spain, including programs to take in more guest workers and to provide legal pathways for people from poorer countries to work in richer ones.
The Biden administration, facing a record flow of illegal migrants at its southern border, pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Venezuelan migrants across the region, renewed processing of family-based visas for Cubans and Haitians and eased the hiring of Central American workers.
The announcements on the final day of the Los Angeles summit are part of a U.S.-led pact dubbed the “Los Angeles Declaration” and aimed at creating incentives for countries taking in large numbers of migrants and spreading responsibility across the region. But some analysts are skeptical that the pledges, some of which appear mostly symbolic, are meaningful enough to make a significant difference.
The plan caps a summit hosted by Biden that was designed to reassert U.S. leadership and counter China’s growing economic footprint in the region.
However, that message was clouded by a partial boycott by leaders, including Mexico’s president, to protest Washington’s exclusion of U.S. antagonists Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
At the summit’s opening on Thursday, leaders from Argentina and tiny Belize took rebuked Biden face-to-face over the guest list, underscoring the challenge the global superpower faces in restoring its influence among poorer neighbors.
On Friday, Chile, the Bahamas, Barbados and and Antigua and Barbuda joined the drumbeat of criticism, though Biden was not present. “We can’t have exclusions,” new Chilean leftist President Gabriel Boric said from the summit podium.
The declaration, due to be presented by Biden and other leaders at a ceremony on Friday, “seeks to mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas,” the White House said.
Some countries are unlikely to endorse the plan, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some Caribbean states are not expected to approve it, an official at the summit said. Both spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials were expected to work right up until the rollout ceremony to persuade skeptical governments to accept, or at least not openly oppose, any of the migration provisions, another person familiar with the negotiations said.
U.S. officials believe the open backlash Biden faced in Thursday’s plenary session has reinforced the determination of some leaders against caving in to American pressure over the declaration, the source familiar with the matter said.
“Addressing the unprecedented migration crisis in the region requires us to rethink how we view multilateral development finance and how we manage the strains on our economies,” the White House said.
Mexico – whose long border with the United States is main focus of irregular migration – will back the declaration, an official said, despite President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s no-show.
The absence from the summit of the leaders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – the so-called Northern Triangle region from which many migrants come – has raised doubts about how effectively the proposed pledges will become reality. U.S. officials have said the turnout would not prevent Washington from getting results.
The declaration encompasses specific commitments by a broad array of countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Belize and Ecuador. There was no mention, however, of any pledges by Brazil, Latin America’s most populous nation.
The White House’s announcement did not include any U.S. pledges for additional work visas for Mexicans. That would form part of the discussions when Lopez Obrador visits Biden next month, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Spain, attending as an observer, pledged to “double the number of labor pathways” for Hondurans in Madrid’s “circular migration programs,” the White House said. Madrid’s temporary work program enrolls only 250 Hondurans, suggesting only a small increase is envisioned.
Curbing irregular migration is a top priority for Biden, a Democrat, as the number of attempted illegal border crossings has risen to record highs.
Republicans, who hope to regain control of Congress in November midterm elections, have pilloried the president for reversing the restrictive immigration policies of Republican predecessor Donald Trump.
But migration – as well as the summit itself – has had to compete with Biden’s other challenges at home and abroad including high inflation, mass shootings and the war in Ukraine.
U.S. efforts to stem migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have been hampered by corruption, with projects likely worth millions of dollars shelved.
In recent months, the Biden administration has sought to portray migration as a challenge for all of the Americas, calling on other countries to strengthen protection for asylum seekers.