US State Secretary Blinken heads to Mexico seeking to tackle migration issue

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads Wednesday to Mexico in hopes of showing headway in tackling surging migration, which has climbed to the top of political headaches for President Joe Biden as he enters an election year.

The unusual Christmas week trip by the top US diplomat was abruptly scheduled as the rival Republican Party presses Biden for a migration crackdown in return for agreeing in Congress to one of his key priorities -- support for Ukraine.

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Around 10,000 people have been seeking to enter without authorization each day on the southern US border, nearly double the number before the pandemic, with a new caravan of hundreds if not thousands of people leaving by foot from southern Mexico on Sunday.

US border authorities have been so overwhelmed that they have suspended several legal crossings to focus on processing migrants.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador discussed migration in a telephone call Thursday with Biden, who agreed to send Blinken, who is accompanied by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and White House migration official Liz Sherwood.

Lopez Obrador told reporters Friday that Mexico would “reinforce our plans” to deal with US-bound migrants -- few of whom are Mexicans -- after his government also said it was at the breaking point on enforcement.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the US delegation would speak to Lopez Obrador on the “urgent need for lawful pathways and additional enforcement actions” on migration.

Mexico, under agreements with both Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, has agreed at least temporarily to take in migrants seeking to cross into the United States.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in November, is again campaigning on stridently anti-immigrant rhetoric, accusing foreigners of “poisoning the blood of our country,” language that critics pointed out was similar to that of Hitler.

The package proposed by Biden to Congress would also fund 1,300 additional Border Patrol agents to help address migration.

The Biden administration has warned that without a deal, Ukraine will soon run out of weapons needed to repel the nearly two-year-old Russian invasion.

‘No magic wand’

Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, expected Blinken to seek additional support from Mexico to keep migrants within its borders, such as temporary work permits.

“The Biden administration wants to show for its own domestic political reasons that they’re doing everything they possibly can,” he said.

“One of the challenges is that everybody wants a short-term solution to a global, longstanding problem,” he said of migration. “There is no magic wand.”

“Most of these people are migrating because they make a rational decision that life for them will be better in the US,” he said.

Migrants have been fleeing Central American countries ravaged by poverty, violence and disasters worsened by climate change.

In recent months there has also been an uptick in migrants heading through Mexico from Haiti, which has been devastated by gang violence and a lack of a functioning government, and Venezuela, where basic goods have fallen in short supply after years of economic chaos.

Maria Alicia Ulloa, a Honduran who is part of the latest caravan, said that the US and Mexican officials meeting Wednesday should find ways to help the migrants.

“They have to support us because the situation is also critical in our countries,” she said, voicing fears that tougher US-Mexican immigration measures would mean returning to a country beset by crime and unemployment.

“We emigrate with the hope of giving a better life to our children, and a better life to the relatives who remain behind,” she said.

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