In separate visits this month, Vice President Kamala Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas conveyed to the United States’ most important partner that the Biden administration is taking a more nuanced approach to immigration than its predecessor, but that Mexico still needs to do more.
“We have challenged one another with respect to what more can each of us do to address the level of irregular migration that has persisted for several months,” Mayorkas said at the end of two days of high-level meetings on Tuesday.
According to data from US Customs and Border Protection, encounters with migrants at the US-Mexico border increased from April to more than 180,000 in May, more than doubling the number in January.
Record migrant child arrivals have been particularly difficult for the Biden administration, as they have been for his predecessors, with the US government picking up nearly 60,000 children traveling without their parents across the Mexican border from February to May. When then-President Donald Trump threatened to impose harmful tariffs on all Mexican imports unless Mexico did more to stem the flow of migrants in 2019, Mexico deployed its newly formed National Guard to beef up enforcement efforts.
Mayorkas described the Biden administration’s approach as “multifaceted,” and he denied that the White House had sent mixed messages that could have encouraged more migration to the border.
Harris is leading the United States’ efforts to identify and address the underlying causes of immigration. During her visit to Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month, she urged Central Americans not to attempt to cross the border into the United States, while also attempting to provide people with a sense of hope that would encourage them to stay at home.
The Biden administration has struggled to put a more compassionate face on immigration policies in the United States, undoing some of Trump’s harshest measures while not encouraging more migration.
Samantha Power, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, is visiting the Northern Triangle countries this week to announce new aid aimed at improving conditions. Power and Harris have spoken out against the region’s rampant corruption and the need for greater economic opportunity.
Mayorkas stated that other components of that strategy included the expansion of the Central American Minors Program, which was announced on Tuesday.
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it was expanding a recently resurrected effort to bring Central American children to the United States to reunite with legally present parents. Trump announced in August 2017 that he was suspending the Central American Minors Program as part of his immigration crackdown.
The program was restarted in March for children from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador who had applied to be paroled into the United States before Trump terminated it. The expansion announced Tuesday provides various forms of legal status to eligible families whose parents are in the United States, including green cards and Temporary Protected Status for designated countries afflicted by natural disasters or civil strife. Harris, Mayorkas, and Power’s visits to the region were all their first foreign trips as part of a new administration, sending a message that the region’s problems were being addressed.
Other priorities for Mexico include reopening the U.S.-Mexico border, which has been closed to non-essential travel for more than a year.
The United States donated 1.35 million doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to Mexico on Tuesday. The US vaccine shipment will be used to vaccinate anyone over the age of 18 in four border cities: Tijuana, Mexicali, Ciudad Juárez, and Reynosa. Mexico has stated that the goal is to raise vaccination rates in the country to levels comparable to those found in neighboring cities in the United States. Later, Ebrard said on Twitter that he told Mayorkas that Mexico wanted to speed up vaccinations for people living along their shared border so that life could return to normal. “The Secretary stated that his priority is to facilitate trade, tourism, and travel,” Ebrard wrote.
After US authorities arrested former Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos on drug trafficking charges last year and then released him under Mexican pressure, security cooperation between the two countries suffered. Mexico has imposed restrictions on US agents operating in the country.