LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) – US President Joe Biden and fellow leaders from the Western Hemisphere on Friday (June 10) rolled out a new set of measures to confront the regional migration crisis, seeking to salvage an Americas summit roiled by division.
Biden’s aides had touted the migration declaration as a centerpiece of the US-hosted Summit of the Americas, and 20 countries joined him for a ceremonial unveiling of the plan – though several others stayed away.
Capping the summit’s final day, the White House promoted a series of migrant programs agreed by countries across the hemisphere and Spain, attending as an observer, which pledged a more cooperative approach. But analysts were sceptical that the pledges are meaningful enough to make a significant difference.
Those measures include the United States and Canada committing to take more guest labourers, providing pathways for people from poorer countries to work in richer ones, and other countries agreeing to greater protections for migrants.
Mexico also will accept more Central American workers, according to a White House statement.
“We’re transforming our approach to manage migration in the Americas,” Biden said. “Each of us is signing up to commitments that recognises the challenges we all share.”
The flags of 20 countries, several fewer than the number attending the summit, festooned the stage where Biden led the rollout. But that number was only achieved after days of US pressure.
It was another sign of tensions that have marred the summit, undermining Biden’s efforts to reassert US leadership and counter China’s growing economic footprint in the region.
That message was clouded by a boycott by several leaders, including Mexico’s president, to protest Washington’s exclusion of leftist US antagonists Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The line-up was thinned to 21 visiting heads of state and government.
The administration, facing a record flow of illegal migrants at its southern border, pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Venezuelan migrants, renewed processing of family-based visas for Cubans and Haitians and eased the hiring of Central American workers.
The announcements were part of the unveiling of US-led pact dubbed the “Los Angeles Declaration” and aimed at spreading responsibility across the region to contain the migration problem.
The plan culminates a summit designed to re-establish US influence among its southern neighbours after years of relative neglect under former President Donald Trump. Biden proposed an economic partnership to help the region’s pandemic recovery – though it appears to be a work in progress.
But at the summit’s opening on Thursday, leaders from Argentina and tiny Belize rebuked Biden over the guest list, underscoring the challenge the global superpower faces in restoring its status among poorer neighbours.
On Friday, Chile, Bolivia, the Bahamas, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda joined the criticism, though Biden was not present.
“No one should exclude another country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, sitting in for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, said from the podium.
The sessions this week regularly rang out to US composer’s John Philip Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell” march, popularised by the classic British comedy show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”