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US and Mexico agree to tougher border immigration policies as Covid restrictions end


WASHINGTON — U.S. and Mexican officials have agreed to new immigration policies meant to deter illegal border crossings while opening up other routes ahead of an expected surge in migrant numbers after pandemic restrictions end this week next.

Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall spent Tuesday meeting with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and other top officials, emerging with a five-point plan, according to statements from both countries.

Under the agreement, Mexico will continue to accept migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba and Nicaragua who are being turned back at the border, and up to 100,000 people from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who have family in the United States will be able to live and work there.

Despite sharing a 1,951-mile border with the United States, Mexico had been notably absent from last week’s rollout of a new round of efforts, including establishing hubs outside the United States where migrants could apply to settle legally in the United States, Spain or Canada. The first centers will open in Guatemala and Colombia.

COVID-19 restrictions have allowed US authorities to turn back tens of thousands of migrants crossing the southern border, but those restrictions will be lifted on May 11 and border officials are bracing for an increase. Even with the restrictions, the administration has seen record numbers of people crossing the border, and President Joe Biden has responded by cracking down on those crossing illegally and creating new avenues to replace dangerous and often deadly travel.

Mexico’s support is critical to any U.S. attempt to crack down on the southern border, especially since migrants from countries as far away as Haiti make the trek on foot through Mexico and are not easily returned to their native country.

With Mexico now trailing the United States, plus an announcement Tuesday that 1,500 active-duty U.S. troops are deploying south for administrative support, and other crackdowns in place, border officials believe they may be able to handle overcrowding and other possible issues that may arise once COVID-19 related restrictions end.

Biden, who announced his Democratic re-election campaign a week ago, is trying to signal that his administration is making serious efforts to reduce the number of illegal crossings, which have been a potent source of Republican attacks. It also tries to send a message to potential cross-border workers not to attempt the trip.

But that effort also draws potentially undesirable comparisons to Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, whose policies Biden frequently criticized. Congress, meanwhile, has refused to take any substantive action related to immigration.

The United States will continue to turn back Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans who cross illegally. Mexico said on Tuesday it would continue to accept up to 30,000 migrants a month from the four countries that account for a growing share of all illegal border crossings, with no easy way to quickly return migrants to their places of origin. native country.

According to data on asylum seekers in Mexico, Haitians remained in the lead with 18,860 so far this year, more than the total for all of 2022.

Meanwhile, the United States is accepting 30,000 people a month from the four countries for two years and offering them the opportunity to work legally, as long as they come legally, have eligible sponsors, and pass background checks and background checks.

The administration also plans to quickly screen migrants seeking asylum at the border itself, quickly deport those who are unqualified, and penalize people who illegally cross into the United States or illegally cross another country for get to the US border.

In addition, 1,500 active duty personnel will be deployed to the border area for 90 days and will be retired from the Army and Marine Corps. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will seek to replace those troops with National Guard or Reserve troops during this time, Pentagon Air Force spokesman Brig. said General Pat Ryder. There are already 2,500 members of the National Guard at the border. They do not work in a law enforcement capacity, but their mere presence sends a message.

Then-President Trump deployed active-duty troops to the border to help Border Patrol personnel process large migrant caravans, in addition to National Guard forces already working in that capacity.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre played down any similarities between Biden’s handling of immigration and Trump’s use of troops during his tenure. “DOD personnel have supported CBP at the border for nearly two decades now,” she said. “So it’s common practice.”

But some members of Biden’s own party opposed the decision.

“The Biden administration’s militarization of the border is unacceptable,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, DN.J. “There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and the deployment of military personnel only signals that migrants are a threat that our country’s troops must contain. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The Pentagon on Tuesday approved a request for troops made by the Department of Homeland Security, which manages the border.

As a condition of Austin’s previous approval of National Guard troops on the border through Oct. 1, Homeland Security had to agree to work with the White House and Congress to develop a staffing solutions plan to more long-term and funding shortfalls to maintain security and immigration processing without the use of Department of Defense resources, Pentagon officials said.

As part of the deal, the Pentagon requested quarterly updates from Homeland Security on how it would staff its border mission without service members. It was not immediately clear whether those updates had taken place or whether border officials would be able to meet the terms of the deal, especially under pressure from another expected wave of migrants.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.