Biden, visiting Mexico, will highlight rising fentanyl deaths and record numbers of migrants

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MEXICO CITY — As the United States faces a record number of migrants coming to its southern border and fentanyl overdoses continue to kill college students and working Americans alike, all eyes will be on President Joe Biden this week as he leaders of Mexico and Canada met for the North American Leaders’ Summit.

Biden’s meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comes a day after the president stopped to visit the border in El Paso, Texas, where dozens of migrants roam the streets homeless as local officials are tied up for money to tackle a growing crisis.

All the while, Biden will be watched like a hawk by House Republicans who have waited two years to adopt Biden’s immigration policy and have plans to bring Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to Capitol Hill to answer questions from the new majority. to answer.

The meeting between the three leaders also comes as the United States tries to restore relations. In particular, Biden’s relationship with Mexico has been beset with several issues over the past year after López Obrador skipped last year’s Summit of the Americas and continued to flirt with Russia even as Putin’s war in Ukraine approaches the year.

Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico who served early in the administration as Biden’s Southwestern Border Coordinator at the National Security Council, said this will be a moment for Biden to show how much work has gone into rebuilding the relationship between the two countries. .

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“With all its warts, this relationship is actually in a little better place than a lot of people think,” Jacobson told USA TODAY. “There are many things that the two governments are working on that are of great importance to the United States.”

But with migration, fentanyl, threats to democracy and climate change – especially since climate leader López Obrador once went to buy coal – the stakes remain high for the commander-in-chief.

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US President Joe Biden meets with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Oval Office of the White House on July 12, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Immigration

With a record number of migrants, many from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba, coming to the US-Mexico border, immigration will be at the top of the agenda during the Biden-López Obrador meetings.

While Mexico had previously sent National Guard troops to the country’s southern border to help process migrants from Guatemala, the two leaders will likely continue to talk about more efforts Mexico can take to prevent migrants from reaching the US-Mexico border.

Tony Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said Mexico’s current strategy has not curbed the flow of migrants.

According to data from Customs and Border Protection, officials had 233,740 encounters with migrants at the southwestern border in November 2022.

“If the Biden administration thought it was somehow getting Mexico’s cooperation, the numbers don’t show that,” Payan said. “Obviously they need to talk about that and they need to talk about whether Mexico takes immigration seriously or not.”

Ahead of the Mexico City summit, Biden announced a new parole program for individuals from Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba seeking asylum in the United States.

As part of the announcement, Biden noted that Mexico would accept 30,000 Nicaraguans, Haitians and Cubans per month — something the government had failed to do after the surge of those nationalities to the border.

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The plan indicates Mexico’s willingness to work with the United States to address migration issues.

Leaders could likely discuss the capacity of each country’s asylum systems, as well as how to better process people to help them navigate their way forward in each country’s asylum process, said Shannon O’Neil, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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Mexico’s role in immigration has grown as it is now also a destination country for people seeking asylum, Jacobson said.

“Mexico is no longer just a sending or transit country, but also a destination country,” Jacobson said. “In some ways, I think the three countries have more in common on migration than ever before.”

Stop the flow of fentanyl

With fears rife in the United States of an accidental overdose due to fentanyl, the White House has said tackling the deadly drug will be one of its top priorities at the summit.

‘It’s a killer. It’s a flat killer,” Biden said of the drug on Thursday.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 71,000 Americans will die in 2021 from overdose deaths from synthetic opioids — mostly with fentanyl.

Arturo Sarukhán, a former Mexican ambassador to the US, said the recent arrest of drug trafficker Ovidio Guzmán, the son of the notorious Sinaloa drug lord known as “El Chapo”, was a signal that Mexico was ready to talk about tackling of the fentanyl stream from Mexico to the US. United States.

Guzmán’s arrest sparked violence, with gunfights in the Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state.

“I think Biden will certainly want to make sure that Lopez Obrador’s public safety paradigm does not allow organized crime to continue to grow and multiply, which has been the case for the past three years,” Sarukhán said.

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Democracy

Both the United States and Mexico face presidential elections next year. And the state of democracy will likely be on the agenda between those two countries.

Mexico passed a “voter reform” law in December that would make elections in the country less safe. The law comes months after Biden praised democracy at the Summit of the Americas last summer.

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As both countries face elections next year, the topic may be on the agenda, said María Fernanda Bozmoski, deputy director of programs at the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

Energy and trade

As the United States tries to take steps toward producing electric vehicles and promoting clean energy, the topic may be a bone of contention between the three leaders.

Under the López Obrador, Mexico has reverted to green energy goals and moved to using coal and petroleum. Biden and Trudeau are likely to discuss how Mexico will promote green energy in the future, said Earl Anthony Wayne, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

In addition, Canada and the United States will have to decide whether to go to a dispute resolution panel under the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement to Favor Their State-Owned Energy Suppliers. USMCA is a free trade agreement negotiated under the Trump administration.

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“They’ve been negotiating intensely with the Mexicans to see if they can find a solution,” Wayne said. “And the US will have to make a decision as to whether a solution is possible.”

There may also be a dispute between the three countries over the treatment of cars and vehicles under USMCA.

Mexico and Canada have argued that the United States is not applying what was agreed upon about how to treat cars and cars under the USMCA. The two countries called for a dispute resolution panel, where they argued that more vehicles should qualify for duty-free shipping.

“The question is will the United States accept that decision if it is negative?” said Wayne. “It’s very important that we find solutions to all these differences that arise…because it’s important for the credibility of our trading relationship.”

Reach Rebecca Morin on Twitter @RebeccaMorin_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden’s visit to Mexico will highlight immigration and other important issues