Biden under pressure to honor Summit of the Americas migration deal

LOS ANGELES — Despite bad press and boycotts, President Biden received an ambitious statement on migration from fellow hemispheric leaders last week. But that was the easy thing.

Getting other countries to live up to the words — and put teeth into Mr Biden’s commitments — will be a much more difficult proposition.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection was the most significant achievement of the Summit of the Americas, which Mr. Biden hosted in Los Angeles last week. He agreed to increase US aid, open US borders to more guest workers from the hemisphere and take in more refugees.

Other countries that signed pledged to do more to guard their borders, granting asylum to some migrants who show up on their doorstep, while expelling those who do not qualify.

Twenty countries have signed up.

“With this statement, we are transforming our approach to managing migration in America,” said Mr Biden.

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The agreement suggested a willingness for countries to receive newcomers, rather than rush them north, many of them headed for the US.

Ironically, the Trump administration made similar deals with key Central American countries, but saw that work undone by the new Biden administration last year.

Where Trump threatened to lose foreign aid or access US markets to make deals, Mr. Biden is using the carrot approach, with promises of US aid. He also says he is leading by example, with new programs to welcome and accelerate the business of asylum seekers and to grant special access to Haitians and Cubans who want to reunite with family who are already here.

The hope is that other countries will do more to derail the migration pipeline that has sent an unprecedented number of people down the backbone of America and to the US-Mexico border.

Immigrant rights groups applauded the spirit of the deal but questioned whether any of the signatories — including Mr Biden — can live up to their words.

“The tangible commitments of the signatory countries are commendable,” said Julio Rank Wright of the International Rescue Committee. “However, it is unclear how these commitments will be monitored and evaluated. Without long-term funding and political will to protect the displaced across the region, the IRC fears the Declaration’s intentions will fail, leaving millions of people behind in America.”

Other groups said Mr Biden should push for a more welcoming approach to asylum seekers, including finally ending the Title 42 pandemic border closure that a court has retained so the US can show full leadership.

Meanwhile, Texas Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had “little confidence” that the agreement would resolve chaos on America’s southern border.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris couldn’t even ensure the presence of the leaders of Mexico and North Central America. Where is all that renewed leadership promised to us by the Biden campaign?” he said.

It’s a question often asked in Washington.

Mr. Biden took office with more foreign relations experience than any president since George HW Bush, after serving as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than a decade, including three separate positions as chairman.

His chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and his struggle to tame North Korea’s ambitions or strike a new nuclear deal with Iran have tarnished his reputation.

Last week’s summit, the first time it hosted a major international leadership confab, brought more problems as it ruled out the heads of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, which in turn urged the president of Mexico to boycott. Leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador also begged for. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro did show up and accompanied Mr Biden for a frosty bilateral meeting.

“It’s not clear to me yet what the summit itself says about the success of the government’s foreign policy,” said Patrick Duddy, former US ambassador to Venezuela under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. “However, I think there has undeniably been some disappointment that this issue of invitations and boycotts has become so dominant as people have analyzed the summit.”

Mr. Duddy, who is now director of Duke University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, said the key question is whether Mr. Biden can convince leaders to live up to the statement they signed.

“As one of the prime ministers emphasized, measuring the success of the summit will take place later. What follows after the announcements? Will the pledges made in Los Angeles turn out to be substantial or be recalled as bromides in two years?” he said.

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