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Immigration, COVID headline talks between Biden, Lopez Obrador

By AFP - Mar 02,2021 - Last updated at Mar 02,2021

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden told his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that Mexico’s success was crucial to the hemisphere and that he would view the US southern neighbour as an equal.

In a virtual summit to discuss immigration, COVID-19 and commercial issues, Biden opened talks by reminding Lopez Obrador of his four visits to Mexico as vice president.

“The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together,” Biden said at the beginning of their teleconference.

But “we haven’t been perfect neighbours to each other.”

During the Obama-Biden administration, he continued, “we looked at Mexico as an equal. You are equal”.

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

It was Biden’s second bilateral meeting with a foreign leader since becoming president on January 20. The first was with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The talks came after four years of tumultuous US-Mexico relations under former president Donald Trump, who shut down the US border to migration, tore up the NAFTA trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, and labelled Mexican immigrants drug traffickers and “rapists”.

Still, the flow of migrants and trade — legal and illegal — across the US-Mexican border was to be the focus of the summit.

Joining the call, were top diplomatic, security and immigration officials from both sides.


‘A joint approach’ 


The meeting came amid reports of a new surge of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the United States from Mexico and its southern neighbors, as Biden eases Trump’s tough anti-immigration regime.

The summit also was to address joint development efforts in impoverished southern Mexico and Central America, the source of most of the migrants; COVID-19 recovery and economic cooperation.

Speaking in the state of Zacatecas on Saturday, Lopez Obrador said he would also emphasise how important migrant labor is to the US economy.

The two countries share a porous, nearly 3,200 kilometres border, with hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of commerce annually and large numbers of daily legal crossings by individuals.

But it also sees a huge level of illegal migrant crossing, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers trying to enter the United States and large amounts of illicit drug trafficking from south to north.

“Security cooperation remains essential if we wish to address drug abuse, corruption and organised crime which impact both nations,” Andrew Rudman, a Mexico specialist at the Wilson Centre think tank in Washington, said ahead of the meeting.

“Migration, which is also impacted by organised crime, also demands a joint approach,” he said.

One issue expected to be discussed was Mexico’s need for more coronavirus vaccines.

The country has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the pandemic, after the United States and Brazil.

Asked ahead of the meeting if Washington would send vaccines to Mexico, Biden answered: “We’re going to talk about that.”

Biden will need Lopez Obrador’s help as he tries to end Trump’s tough clampdown on immigration without spurring a new and unmanageable gush of migrants asking for asylum.

The new US secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said on Monday he was pushing to reunite migrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration.

That will require some assistance from Mexico, where many of the children’s parents were deported.

The goal is “to replace the cruelty of the past administration with an orderly, human and safe immigration process”, Mayorkas said.


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