Biden Seeks Assistance on Border From Mexican President

WASHINGTON – President Biden on Monday asked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for help in averting a new crisis on the border and asked a key proponent of Mr Biden’s predecessor’s harsh immigration policy for diplomatic cooperation.

Mr López Obrador won President Donald J. Trump’s admiration for working together on his tough immigration agenda and even praised Mr Trump during a call with Mr Biden, the then-elected President, in December.

With the increase in illegal migrant crossings on some parts of the southwest border, Mr Biden now hopes that Mr López Obrador will become a partner to prevent another cycle of runaway migration from Central America, but without the full range of guidelines that Mr Trump accepted.

Despite his campaign against Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Biden wants one of the same things from the Mexican President as his predecessor: help to prevent Central American migrants from immediately advancing north through Mexico towards the United States.

While Mr Biden has portrayed himself as harshly violating the Trump administration’s immigration policies, he has kept some for now while abandoning others.

The president recently began welcoming a limited number of asylum seekers to the United States who were subjected to violence and kidnappings in dangerous areas of Mexico under a Trump-era program. However, Biden’s administration has maintained a separate Trump policy allowing agents to swiftly evict newcomers to the border to Mexican authorities as Mr Biden hopes to avoid a crisis that challenged his predecessors.

Both guidelines were accepted with little resistance by Mr López Obrador when they were first imposed by Mr Trump.

Mr López Obrador recently called for a new immigrant worker program for Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States, although Mr Biden’s press secretary said Monday the move would require Congress legislation.

But while Mr Trump initially threatened Mexico with tariffs and a border closure in order to win cooperation with its immigration agenda, Mr Biden praised Mr López Obrador on Monday. Mr Biden has also signaled that he will endeavor to open the U.S.-Mexico border to full trade if the pandemic allows.

“The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together,” Biden said at the start of a virtual meeting with the Mexican president, acknowledging that the countries were not “perfect” neighbors. During the Obama administration, he said, “We saw Mexico as equals – you are equals.”

The conversation took place between the two guides after a turbulent start. Mr López Obrador, one of the last leaders to congratulate Mr Biden on his election victory, viewed the Biden administration as potentially more onerous than that of Mr Trump, who largely failed to pressure the Mexican president on domestic affairs.

Mr López Obrador recently passed a measure to curb cooperation with American narcotics on a sharp allegation after the United States arrested a former Mexican official on drug trafficking.

“What you do in Mexico and how you succeed affects the rest of the hemisphere,” said Biden.

Mr López Obrador later said to Mr Biden: “It is important that we base our good relations on an ongoing and regular dialogue.”

Prior to the meeting, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas denounced what he called the “depth of cruelty” of the Trump administration’s immigration philosophy and told reporters that border family separation was “the most powerful and heartbreaking example”. of Mr. Trump’s attack on the immigration system.

But even as Mr Biden tries to overturn that policy, Mr Mayorkas conceded that for the time being, the United States continues to rely on a measure that is at the heart of Mr Trump’s approach: a public health rule that sees border guards quickly deported must be cross-border commuters to Mexico without the opportunity to apply for asylum.

“They must wait. It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch, ”Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers.

Mr Biden has made immigration one of his top legislative and diplomatic priorities by quickly raising the Trump-era limits on refugees who can be admitted to the United States and calling on Congress to pass sweeping law one path provides citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the country.

The Biden administration has also set up a task force to reunite parents separated from their children as part of Mr Trump’s family segregation policy. Mr Mayorkas said Monday that Michelle Brané, the former director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, would lead efforts to unite families who could be offered the opportunity to stay in the United States permanently. Mr. Mayorkas stopped to promise the parents’ citizenship.

Republicans have already signaled that they intend to use Mr Biden’s reversal of his predecessor’s immigration policy as a cornerstone in their efforts to retake Congress in 2022 and retake the White House two years later.

Following his successful campaign in 2016, Mr. Trump put a roadmap for Republican candidates back in 2022 by exaggerating the situation at the border again and falsely stating that Mr. Biden’s approach was to “remove border security”.

Mr Mayorkas denied allegations that the border situation had turned into a crisis despite the fact that Customs and Border Protection had moved agents from the coastal and northern borders to the Rio Grande Valley “due to fluctuations along the south-western border,” an agency statement .

“There is a challenge on the border that we manage,” Mayorkas said.

While running the Migrant Protection Protocols program that has forced migrants to wait for a decision on their asylum cases in Mexico, Mr Biden has maintained another Trump rule that allows border officials to quickly expel migrants and turn them over to Mexican authorities .

Both the Biden and Trump administrations have stated that the policy is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in border communities, even if supporters of immigrants say it undermines the procedural rights of asylum seekers.

Border officials encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January, the highest number that month in at least a decade, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. More than 80 percent of these arrests resulted in the migrant being swiftly evicted under the emergency rule and not in processing a migrant in a detention center.

Mr Biden does not use the rule to exclude unaccompanied migrant children. This practice led, under Mr Trump, to families looking for Central American children and breaking a diplomatic agreement with Mexico. Instead, under the Biden administration, most unaccompanied children, traveling in the hundreds a day from Central America, are quarantined and placed in emergency shelters in the United States until they are matched with a relative godparent.

As the border detention centers already have limited capacity due to the pandemic, the Biden government in Texas opened an emergency shelter for young migrants. The use of shelters has been widely criticized during the Trump administration.

The administration hopes that the temporary facilities will be sufficient until the infrastructure at the border is set up. In the meantime, Mr Biden continues to rely on Mr Trump’s pandemic emergency rule to turn away newcomers to the border.

Despite the emergency rule, border officials have released a limited number of families in communities in South Texas for weeks as a result of changes to Mexican law, which has been the subject of internal discussions between Mexican and American government officials in recent weeks, according to a senior administration official.

Biden government officials said the recent amendment to Mexico’s law banning the detention of young children in Tamaulipas state has forced border officials to release dozens of families in border communities across the United States every day. Customs and Border Protection does not test every migrant for the coronavirus, but instead relies on local officials to test families after they are released, causing widespread concern in border communities, said Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas.

At the same time, pandemic restrictions remain in place for non-essential travelers, which have long stimulated the local economy along the border, he said.

The increase in migration, said Mr Cuellar, has made the relationship with Mexico even more crucial. “The whole key is how are you going to work with us?” he said.

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