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20 nations sign on to Americas migration plan

Biden wrapped up the Summit of the Americas unveiling a migration plan that comes at a pivotal moment for cohesion and democracy's future in the region.

The Organization of American States' Washington headquarters
The Organization of American States' Washington headquarters (AN/J. Heilprin)

WASHINGTON (AN) — U.S. President Joe Biden wrapped up the 2022 Summit of the Americas on Friday in Los Angeles by unveiling a regional migration plan that comes at a pivotal moment for cohesion — and democracy's future — in the Western Hemisphere.

On the final day of the weeklong summit, 20 nations including the United States signed on to the Biden administration's Los Angeles Declaration of Migration and Protection to boost humanitarian aid, create new temporary protected status programs, set new refugee targets and expand temporary worker programs.

The Biden administration says it wants to "mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas." The plan aims for more international cooperation around migration challenges, especially the growing number of people trying to enter the United States by seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The White House also announced US$314 million in aid to help Venezuelan migrants across 17 nations and renewed measures allowing Cubans and Haitians to reunite with U.S.-based family.

Ecuador announced it would help Venezuelans gain regular immigration status if they legally entered through a port of entry. Canada said it would welcome more than 50,000 farm workers from the Caribbean, Guatemala and Mexico this year, while Guatemala and Mexico and Guatemala said they would tackle labor shortages by boosting migrant labor programs.

Biden opened the summit saying "democracy is a hallmark of our region" and there has never been greater need than now for "more cooperation, common purpose, and transformative ideas" among countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. He also announced a new partnership on climate and energy with Caribbean nations that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will lead.

"In a moment when democracy is under assault around the world, let us unite again and renew our conviction that democracy is not only the defining feature of American histories, but the essential ingredient to Americas’ futures," Biden said at L.A.'s Microsoft Theater.

"To state the obvious, our region is large and diverse. We don’t always agree on everything, but because we’re democracies, we work through our disagreements with mutual respect and dialogue," he said. "And no longer is this a question of what will we do — what will the United States do for the Americas. The question is what we accomplish by working together as true partners with diverse capabilities but equal and mutual respect, recognizing both our individual sovereignty and our shared responsibilities."

Ahead of the summit, only the second time it has been hosted by the United States since the inaugural summit at Miami in 1994, negotiators hammered out agreement on political commitments aimed at "building a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable region," according to the summit's secretariat, part of the Washington-based Organization of the American States.

With much of its attention focused on Ukraine, the White House drew fewer than two dozen heads of state to the summit which opened on Monday. Biden's leadership in the region is being tested as he tries to muster regional solutions on the COVID-19 pandemic, mass migration, climate change and inflation.

Other leaders, including Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, boycotted the summit due to the Biden administration's opposition to hosting  the dictatorships of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. “The president’s principled position," said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, "is that we do not believe that dictators should be invited."

'We all have to work'

At a time when the region is roiled by popular discontent over endemic corruption and inequality, Biden viewed the summit as an opportunity for regional leaders to discuss common approaches on health and climate issues along with migration and economic concerns, according to Juan Gonzalez, U.S. National Security Council director for the Western Hemisphere,

"First, look, there’s 28 years have passed since the United States has hosted the 1st Summit of the Americas, and we’re obviously living in very different times," he told a State Department briefing. "And in a time when even before the pandemic, there were ongoing protests by populations throughout the hemisphere that were really starting to question the value of democracy."

The U.S. President and First Lady Jill Biden greeted heads of state arriving from nations such as Argentina, Brazil and Canada. He noted in his speech that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region "particularly hard," causing more than 40% of reported global pandemic-related deaths though it has just 12% of the global population.

"And the ensuing economic crisis, triggered by the pandemic, ravaged economies throughout the hemisphere, wiping out much of the hard-earned progress we had made. Twenty-two million more people fell into poverty in just the first year of the pandemic. Inequity continues to rise," he said.

Deep divisions among the leaders clouded the summit.

“We definitely would have wished for a different Summit of the Americas. The silence of those who are absent is calling to us,” said Argentine's President Alberto Fernández, who noted Venezuela's vast oil reserves were helping to keep the lights on in his country as Russia's invasion of Ukraine spikes global energy prices.

To ensure everyone is invited in the future, Fernández said summit hosts should "not have the right to impose the right of admission on member countries."

Brian Nichols, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the summit's draft agreement on political commitments reflects five core areas of "democratic governance, health and resilience, the clean energy transition, our green future, and digital transformation." The Biden administration views it as an effort to combat a rise in populism and polarization across the political spectrum.

"First, on democratic governance, the United States knows we all have to work — we all have work to do on building strong and inclusive democracies in the hemisphere, including here at home," Nichols said. Biden also launched initiatives to help cities solve issues ranging from sustainability to inclusion to climate resiliency, and to form a new Americas Health Corps for training 500,000 public health and medical professionals in the region over the next five years.

"We’ve come a long way together since the United States hosted the first Summit of the Americas 28 years ago," Biden said. "But the 'Spirit of Miami,' as it was known — the sense of hope and new possibilities that defined that first summit — remains key to facing the challenges of today and unlocking the incredible potential that exists in this hemisphere — in the Americas."