The Biden administration rolled out additional measures during Tuesday’s North American Leaders’ Summit in a desperate bid to keep migrants from journeying to the US southern border.
The latest slate of efforts come at a time of unprecedented movement in the Western Hemisphere and are designed to curb border crossings while making programs to legally migrate to the United States, Mexico and Canada more accessible, according to a senior administration official.
But the success of those measures is dependent on migrants seeing those options as viable, especially when urgently fleeing deteriorating conditions in their home countries.
Over the course of his presidency, Joe Biden has faced changing migration patterns that pose unique challenges to the administration and have stretched federal and local resources. The issue in turn has increasingly become a political vulnerability for the administration – which has drawn fierce criticism from Republicans and Democrats – and been a key point of discussion with partners to the south, primarily Mexico.
Following the summit, Biden thanked Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for “stepping up to receive into Mexico those not following the lawful pathways we’ve made available – instead of attempting to unlawfully cross the border between our two countries.”
The president spoke about his visit to the border and said that the three leaders were working together “in a way that upholds our nation’s laws and protects the human rights of migrants facing desperate circumstances.”
“We’re true partners,” Biden said of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and López Obrador, adding the three work together with a “mutual respect and a genuine like for one another to advance a safer and more prosperous future for all our people.”
“We cannot wall ourselves off from shared problems. We are stronger and better when we work together. The three of us. And together, we’ve made enormous progress since our last summit,” Biden said.
Leading up to Tuesday’s summit, administration officials underscored the need for a regional response that shares the responsibility of stemming the flow of migration among partners in the hemisphere. Tuesday’s announcement is a reflection of that.
The Biden administration announced a virtual platform that will serve as a one-stop shop for migrants to find information about legal pathways they might be eligible for – either in the US, Mexico or Canada – and the opening of a new resource center in southern Mexico, the senior administration official said.
“The US, Mexico, and Canada will all commit to making it possible for migrants to access our legal pathways through one platform,” the senior administration official told CNN.
The virtual portal is in part a recognition of the challenges migrants face in trying to identify legal pathways to come to the US and then navigating the often difficult and arduous process to do so. Instead, people often look to smugglers, who disseminate misinformation on US policies, to journey north – a hurdle for the Biden administration as it tries to discourage migrants from taking that route.
“This is an experiment,” the senior administration official said, citing recently launched programs for certain nationalities seeking to come to the US.
Work is underway to build out the portal and is expected to come together in the next several months.
“We’re always in competition with the smugglers, so we think having easy to access, user-friendly, virtual platforms is really important … but then centers where people can go and they know they can trust the people there and get accurate information and even be referred based on intakes and interviews,” the official added.
As part of that effort, the US is also working with Mexico to open brick-and-mortar centers where migrants can get information about how to apply to migrate to the US, mirroring the migrant resource center launched in Guatemala. A new center will be established in Tapachula, a city in southern Mexico, which thousands of migrants pass through on their way to the US-Mexico border.
“We do know that it’s a transit location and so the center can help people stay where they are, and apply from there,” the senior administration official said.
The announcement is prompting question among immigration advocates who say its effectiveness is simply unknowable for now.
“It’s a huge, huge open question,” one immigration advocate said, saying that while such an online platform could end up being helpful to thousands of asylum seekers, it could also prove to be “inaccessible” to many.
The portal is still being built and may not be unveiled for several months still, so the details are still up in the air. One big factor, experts say, is how the administration would determine whether a person is disqualified from being able to seek asylum in the United States.
Tuesday’s summit builds on last year’s gathering in Los Angeles, where countries across the Western Hemisphere committed to the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. The summit was a point of contention between the US and Mexico when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador snubbed the gathering over disagreements about who was invited. Mexican officials still attended the summit.
The North American Leaders’ Summit marks the six-month anniversary of that declaration.
“We have a very ambitious agenda and that’s why the US has so many commitments on the table at the outset of this and we continue to push other countries,” the senior administration official said, stressing that the challenge won’t be solved overnight.
CNN’s MJ Lee contributed to this report.