Biden talks with Mexico’s AMLO to discuss migration, Ukraine

United States President Joe Biden held a phone call with his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, as the US prepares to deal with a surge in migration at the US southern border, triggered by the lifting of a COVID-era immigration restriction.

Earlier, the White House had said that the two leaders on Friday “plan to discuss cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in Central America, competitiveness and economic growth, security, energy, and economic cooperation”.

The leaders were also expected to discuss the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which the US will host in Los Angeles in June and convenes leaders from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.

“I look forward to discussing our vision for the Ninth Summit of the Americas and discussing North America priority initiatives for the region,” Biden tweeted ahead of the conversation.

The call on Friday came as the Biden administration is scheduled to lift on May 23 a public health order known as Title 42, which allows the expulsion of migrants back to Mexico or their country of origin, without the chance to file for asylum.

The move could trigger a rush to the US-Mexico border. It has also exacerbated tensions over immigration before US midterm elections, which will decide if Biden’s Democratic Party retains control of the House and Senate.

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the lifting of the rule  – and could issue a restraining order in the next two weeks that could delay the suspension beyond May 23.

Mexican officials, meanwhile, are concerned that the repeal of the measure imposed under former President Donald Trump will encourage a spike in migration and more profits for criminal gangs unless the US does more to help mitigate the impact.

The Trump administration imposed the so-called Title 42 restrictions on asylum seekers in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic began to accelerate. Officials said at the time that the ban was to protect public health, but immigration advocates also saw it as a way to seal the border to migrants, a longstanding priority for Trump.

“Title 42 is a Trump-era relic that perpetuates family separation and prevents people from accessing our asylum system,” according to a letter sent to Biden signed by 50 progressive groups on Thursday.

“We implore you to stand firm in your decision to end Title 42 and communicate your plan to American voters,” the letter said.

The development comes at a time when border crossings are already at record levels. US border authorities arrested 210,000 people attempting to cross the border with Mexico in March, the highest monthly total in two decades.

The March total is a 24 percent increase from the same month a year earlier, when 169,000 people were picked up at the border.

Migrants at border
US border authorities arrested 210,000 people attempting to cross the border with Mexico in March, the highest monthly total in two decades [File: Go Nakamura/Reuters]

The meeting also came at a moment of international and domestic tensions, as the war in Ukraine has contributed to inflation worldwide amid concerns about likely shortages of oil, natural gas and food.

The US has hoped Mexico will join in imposing costs on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine by helping to enforce sanctions on Moscow, a senior Biden administration official told Reuters on Friday.

On Tuesday, Lopez Obrador said during his daily news conference that the White House had requested the meeting and he was not entirely sure about what the two leaders would discuss.

“It’s important that there’s this communication, to listen to President Biden who has treated us with respect, as President Trump also treated us with respect, and we have to ensure a good relationship,” he said.

Lopez Obrador is also scheduled to visit four Central American countries and Cuba next week. In Central America, he plans to speak to his counterparts about economic development and social programmes that could lessen the pressure for people in those countries to migrate. He has previously urged the US government to support some of his initiatives in Central America.

On Ukraine, Mexico has condemned Russia’s invasion, but refused to follow the US and other countries in implementing sanctions.