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Biden in Mexico for talks on migrants, drugs

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US President Joe Biden made his first trip to the Mexico border since taking office./AFP
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Jan 09, 2023 - 10:43 AM

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — A regional migration and drug smuggling crisis is expected to dominate talks between US President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday.

Biden arrived in Mexico City late Sunday after a politically charged stop at the southern US border — his first since taking office.

He will meet Monday and Tuesday with Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau one-on-one and also together in what is dubbed the “Three Amigos” summit.

While trade and environmental issues are also on the table, Biden has put a surge in irregular migration and dangerous drug trafficking front and center of his trip, his first to Mexico as president.

“Our problems at the border didn’t arise overnight,” Biden tweeted after his arrival.

“And they won’t be solved overnight. But, we can come together to fix this broken system. We can secure the border and fix the immigration process to be orderly, fair, safe, and humane.”

On his way to Mexico, Biden stopped for several hours in El Paso, Texas, a city at the heart of the troubled border.

He met with US officials at the Bridge of the Americas crossing, watching a demonstration of the latest border enforcement technology, as well as a customs sniffer dog. He later got out of his motorcade to inspect a section of the tall fencing that snakes between El Paso and its twin city Juarez on the Mexican side.

“They need a lot of resources. We’re going to get it for them,” Biden told reporters after his visit to the customs post.

Asylum overhaul 

Biden is under huge political pressure in the face of spiraling illegal border crossings and applications for asylum by people making perilous journeys from regional countries afflicted by repression, poverty or severe crime.

Adding to the crisis has been a surge in cross-border smuggling of the highly addictive and often deadly narcotic fentanyl.

Biden’s visit sought to respond to Republican accusations that he has been ignoring the situation.

But meeting Biden off Air Force One at El Paso’s airport, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott handed him a letter blasting the visit as “$20 billion too little and two years too late.”

In his meetings with Lopez Obrador and Trudeau, Biden will address the regional scope of the issue.

“It’s gripping the hemisphere, and a regional challenge requires a regional solution,” US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told ABC News, noting that migrants were on the move from as far afield as Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Biden on Thursday announced an expansion of powers to expel people showing up at the border without clearance.

At the same time, a legal, strictly enforced pathway will be created for up to 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The quota will be restricted to those who already have a US sponsor, while anyone attempting to cross the border illegally will be expelled in coordination with Mexico.

Human rights groups harshly criticized this as closing the door on desperate people, but the Biden administration says its actions will essentially kill the market for human smuggling networks, while encouraging legitimate arrivals.

On Sunday, just ahead of Biden’s arrival in Mexico, a line of migrants, some with children in their arms, were deported from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

Venezuelan Jose David Melendez told AFP that he had been apprehended by border guards at a church where he was taking refuge.

“The police officers from the border patrol came and hit us, made us run, pointed guns at us, pointed at children with firearms. Where are our human rights?” the 25-year-old said.

Deported Cuban migrant Lorenzo Escobar, 36, told AFP: “People have the right to freedom, to have something better — it’s impossible to live in our country.”

Drug wars vs development? 

In 2021, the United States and Mexico announced a revamp of their fight against drug trafficking to address the root causes of migration, encourage economic development and bolster curbs against cross-border arms smuggling.

Mexico is plagued by cartel-related bloodshed that has seen more than 340,000 people murdered since the government deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.

Days before Biden’s visit, Mexican security forces captured a son of notorious drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is serving a life sentence at a US prison.

The United States had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Ovidio Guzman’s arrest, accusing him of being a key player in the Sinaloa cartel founded by his father.

Climate change and cooperation in clean energy technologies will also be on the summit agenda, with Mexico hoping to benefit from Washington’s efforts to reduce its reliance on Asia-based manufacturers.

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