Washington (AFP) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Panama on Tuesday as part of a new diplomatic attempt to control migration in Latin America, a source of recurring headaches despite the fact that international politics remains centered on the Ukraine.
The diplomat’s two-day trip, his first to Latin America this year, comes weeks before President Joe Biden’s administration ends pandemic restrictions that have allowed migrants to be rapidly deported to Mexico.
Blinken and US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will meet in Panama City on Wednesday with counterparts from more than 20 countries in the Americas to discuss cooperation on migration.
“We need to have close collaboration with governments across the region to really advance the management of irregular migration and meet the protection needs of the most vulnerable people” in the region, said Brian Nichols, the head of diplomacy American for the Americas.
US authorities arrested more than 221,000 people at the border with Mexico in March, the highest number in a single month in more than two decades.
Citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras are fleeing extreme poverty, endemic violence and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.
But the United States is far from the only country to experience migratory tensions.
The economic and political crisis in Venezuela has caused an exodus of more than six million people, with neighboring Colombia receiving the most.
Nichols said the Panama negotiations, preceded by a similar regional meeting in Colombia in October last year, aim to strengthen support for countries hosting refugees, including through multinational institutions.
Because Latin America is rarely seen as a global security hotspot, the international community spends more than 10 times on every refugee from Syria compared to every migrant from Venezuela, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.
Attention may be further diverted by migration from Ukraine, where more than 4.9 million people have fled since Russia invaded the country on February 24.
“There will be less and less interest from the international community to support migrants in the Western Hemisphere when we have a major migration crisis caused by Russia,” said Jason Marczak, a Latin America expert. to the Atlantic Council think tank.
Marczak says the Biden administration is seeking a regional plan so that “no country is overwhelmed by more migrants, and countries can maximize the opportunities that migrants represent.”
Ukrainian refugees have received a warmer welcome in much of the West than most Muslim migrants from Syria and Afghanistan.
Biden has pledged to take in 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, drawing little protest from former President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which is generally opposed to immigration.
Since arriving at the White House, the Democrat has promised to analyze the root causes of migration and take a more humane approach than Trump’s.
But the courts have forced him to maintain his predecessor’s policy that migrants wait in Mexico while their cases are processed, despite criticism from refugee advocates.
On May 23, however, the administration will end another policy of Trump, who used the covid-19 crisis to immediately deport migrants, saying he was doing so to stop the pandemic.
The end of the so-called Title 42, six months before the midterm elections, has infuriated congressional Republicans.
Besides migration, in Panama, where Blinken will meet President Laurentino Cortizo, and the American delegation will discuss economic recovery, the fight against corruption and the war in Ukraine.
Washington is leading the Western response against Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine and is seeking the support of its allies, but many Latin American countries maintain a more neutral position, such as Mexico, Brazil or Bolivia.
Nichols thinks China’s growing presence in the region will also be highlighted.
© 2022 AFP