Leaders of the two countries bordering the US will converge at the White House Thursday — but despite a raging migrant crisis the border is not expected to be major topic of conversation.
President Biden will host Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Thursday but White House officials say Biden doesn’t intend to make the migrant crisis at the southern border, where apprehensions are at a least 35-year high, a focus of the talks.
Biden administration officials repeatedly stressed to reporters on a preview call that Biden doesn’t intend to focus on the border or discuss the pending court-ordered resurrection of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy that allowed the US to keep most asylum seekers in Mexico while courts reviewed their claims.
“There’s not a real focus, this time around, on our borders,” an administration official told reporters.
When reporters continued to ask about the “Remain in Mexico” policy, the official said Biden doesn’t plan to mention it — despite Mexico’s cooperation being required.
“We know that with Mexico and with all governments in the region, we have to find ways that we can collaborate on migration management, on enforcing our immigration laws. But as I mentioned, it’s not actually one of the themes or focuses of [the meetings],” the official said.
When pressed by yet another reporter, the official added, “Just to mention, again, this won’t be a subject of the conversation tomorrow. You know, we can’t discuss details about negotiations or court filings or anything like that.”
Biden will hold one-on-one meetings with Trudeau and Lopez Obrador before convening a three-leader event branded a North American Leaders’ Summit. Although the White House last week confirmed plans for a Biden-led press conference, the plan was scrapped this week.
Illegal immigration into the US hit its highest level since the 1980s in fiscal 2021, with about 1.7 million arrests. Critics blame Biden’s messaging. He campaigned on welcoming asylum seekers, ended construction of the Trump administration’s US-Mexico border wall and ended the “Remain in Mexico” policy — while urging Congress to pass laws that grant conditional amnesty to most people currently in the country illegally.
Lopez Obrador — a longtime left-wing leader often likened to socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (i-Vt.) — has put some of the blame for the border crisis on Biden.
“Expectations were created that with the government of President Biden there would be a better treatment of migrants. And this has caused Central American migrants, and also from our country, wanting to cross the border thinking that it is easier to do so,” he said in March.
“We need to work together to regulate the flow, because this business can’t be tackled from one day to the next.”
Instead of border issues, officials said Biden plans to mention global warming in talks with the neighboring countries.
“We closely track Mexico’s proposed energy reforms. And again, as I said at the beginning, given where the U.S. economy is going to be going over the course of this administration and the priority that this President has placed on addressing the climate emergency, it is an area where we see great opportunity to partner with both Canada and with Mexico,” an official said.
The leaders also are expected to discuss COVID-19. The US helped both nations secure coveted vaccine doses when supplies were short earlier this year. And the US finally reopened its land borders this month, nearly two years into the pandemic.
The meeting between the three leaders comes as the border crisis persists despite recent monthly reductions in arrests. In October, US Customs and Border Protection reported more than 164,000 people were encountered along the US-Mexico border. While the number represented a decrease for the third month in a row, it is also still more than twice as many encountered in October 2020.
The Biden administration has received bipartisan backlash for their handling of the border crisis. On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas suggested that not all of the estimated 1.2 million illegal immigrants in the US that have final removal orders should be deported.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who Biden appointed to tackle the border crisis earlier this year, took months and heavy critical badgering to finally pay a single visit to the southern border, with both the veep and the White House insisting she will tackle only root causes of migration to the US.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas admitted this week that Harris has not been “directly” involved in his department’s key policy decisions during her nearly eight months handling the issue.
And a Texas Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district sits at the center of the border crisis, said Wednesday he has given op on working with her to solve the migrant crisis.
“I’ve moved on from the vice president to say, ‘OK, let’s work with the ambassadors and let’s work with the State Department. Let’s work with the Homeland Secretary,’” Cuellar told the Washington Examiner.
“I think that’s the way to address it, but I know that the media has put a lot of focus on the vice president, but with all due respect, she was given that title. I don’t think she’s, with all due respect, put the effort in there … We’ve got to look at other folks that have the expertise on that.”
Trudeau, meanwhile, has been one of the closest world leaders to Biden — with Biden placing his first presidential call to the fellow liberal. He narrowly won re-election in September amid a worsening scandal over photos showing him wearing blackface.
Canada hosted the last North American Leaders’ Summit in June 2016. Trudeau received then-President Barack Obama and then-Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto in Ottawa.