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Biden to discuss border and other issues with Mexican president

WASHINGTON – President Biden will speak via video conference on Monday with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, one of the unexpected, but essential, drivers of Trump-era policies aimed at sealing the United States away from the migrants Mr. Biden is attempting to loosen.

Mr Biden is expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, crackdown on drug trafficking and working together on economic opportunities with one of Washington’s biggest trading partners, according to a senior administration official. The discussion, which will take place just days after Mr Biden sought to mend relations in a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, will also focus on efforts to control migration as the Biden administration faces a growing number of unaccompanied children at the southwest border.

Mr. López Obrador is a vital partner as Mr. Biden seeks to reverse the border policies of former President Donald J. Trump and make immigration overhaul a centerpiece of his agenda. In Mr. López Obrador, however, the new president has yet to deal with another relieved world leader eager to rebuild relations and move on from his abrasive predecessor.

The Mexican president has won Mr. Trump’s admiration for his cooperation on his hard-line immigration program, a reversal of an election promise to protect migrants made in part to avoid tariffs Mr. Trump threatened to impose. Mr. López Obrador has come to appreciate the Trump administration for its possible hands-off approach to issues of Mexican domestic politics, even praising Mr. Trump during a call with Mr. Biden, then president-elect, in December.

Mr López Obrador was also one of the last world leaders to congratulate Mr Biden on his electoral victory and recently passed a measure to restrict cooperation with US narcotics agents in a harsh rebuke after the United States arrested a former Mexican drug trafficker. charges.

Mr Biden will not ask for specific actions because Mexico is a sovereign nation, according to the senior official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting. It is unclear how Mr. Biden will respond to Mr. López Obrador’s recent call to create a new guest worker program for Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States. Mr. Biden would need help from Congress to expand visas for these temporary employees.

The two leaders, who previously spoke about ways to stem migration in a Jan. 22 appeal, just days after Mr. Biden took office, are expected to discuss the root causes of the persecution and the poverty that force Central American families to flee to the United States. Mr Biden said during his campaign that he would focus on expanding possibilities to claim refugee status in Central America and increasing foreign aid to the region. Immigration advocates have criticized Biden in recent days for reopening border facilities used under the Trump administration to detain migrant children for the weeks or months it takes to place them with relatives in the United States.

“We will need Mexico’s cooperation. Biden keeps saying we need a regional solution, although he hasn’t said much about Mexico, ”said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at Bipartisan Policy Center. “There is a lot to work on root causes and invest in Central America, but there is no mention of Mexico.”

After Mr. Trump threatened potentially crippling tariffs against the U.S. ally in 2019, Mexico agreed to deploy security forces on its southern border with Guatemala to deter migrants from fleeing poverty and persecution.

As part of the tariff reduction, the Trump administration also expanded a program across the US-Mexico border that forced migrants to wait in Mexico while their immigration cases were processed. The Biden administration has now started to retreat many of these migrants, including those exposed to kidnappings and cartel violence, who were stuck in limbo during a pandemic that resulted in delays in their cases. The administration relies on international organizations to provide tests to migrants in Mexico before they are retired in the United States.

Mr Biden is also asking for Mexico’s help in deterring new arrivals at the border, a goal that already faces challenges. His administration has kept in place a Trump-era policy that allows border officials to quickly deport migrants to Mexico, a move administration officials claim is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the centers. detention centers and border communities.

But a recent change in Mexican law that bans the detention of young children in Tamaulipas state has forced U.S. customs and border protection to return to the practice of releasing migrant families at bus stations in certain areas of the country. neighboring South Texas, a pivot that has raised concerns among border agency executives. Most migrant families continue to be deported to Mexico or Central America.

Officials in the Biden administration have had ongoing discussions with Mexico on a resolution to the blackout, according to the senior official, who did not say whether Mr. Biden plans to discuss the recent change.