US foreign policy

Blinken holds positive talks in Mexico, border crisis threatens foreign policy goals

Migrants coming from Mexico could derail Biden’s foreign policy objectives in an election year

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met senior officials in Mexico, including President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, on Wednesday as pressure mounted on the Biden administration to curb illegal immigration – something that could hinder the US president’s re-election campaign and his foreign policy objectives for 2024.

The top US diplomat’s visit lasted less than the time it took for him to get to Mexico City and return to Washington. Blinken was joined by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall, and Senior Director for Transborder at the National Security Council Katie Tobin.

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The US officials met Obrador and the Mexican Security Cabinet for a little over two hours to discuss ways to address the issue of illegal migrants from third countries using the border with Mexico to enter the US.

A senior administration official said another issue discussed was the deep trade between the two countries. “Mexico is now the United States’ largest trading partner,” the official told reporters on the flight back to Washington.

Successive US administrations have been unable to completely resolve the issue, even as the number of migrants has skyrocketed in recent months.

Biden spoke to his Mexican counterpart last week when he decided to dispatch US officials.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also failed to reach a deal on spending to be used for US support to Ukraine, Israel and others next year due to Republican pushback on additional funding that doesn’t address the border problems.

“Immigration is a much more powerful issue in American politics these days than anything that’s happening in the Middle East or Ukraine,” said Brian Katulis, the Vice President of Policy at the Middle East Institute think tank. “American voters are more likely to raise the problems linked to immigration than the wars in the Middle East or Ukraine as top concerns,” he told Al Arabiya English.

On Wednesday, Blinken announced the year’s final weapons package for Ukraine, worth $250 million. The US has officially run out of Congressionally appropriated funds to continue arming Ukraine against Russia. “It is imperative that Congress act swiftly, as soon as possible, to advance our national security interests by helping Ukraine defend itself and secure its future,” Blinken said.

However, Republicans continue to voice their frustration with the Biden administration’s approach to illegal immigration.

Media reports estimate that nearly 10,000 people are at the border daily, trying to cross into the US. The senior administration official said Mexico shared a plan with the US on Wednesday that involved ways to crack down on smugglers putting migrants on buses and trains into the US.

The US has closed certain borders with Mexico due to the increased number of illegal migrants but has since reopened them because of a drop in these figures, according to the official. However, the official added that the issue is regional and not limited to Mexico. “This is a partnership that no one country can tackle alone. That continues to be the cornerstone of our approach on this.”

America’s border and domestic politics

Migrants coming from Mexico could derail Biden’s foreign policy objectives in an election year that, as of now, looks like it may pit him against former President Donald Trump, who has been capitalizing on the border issue and galvanizing voters by highlighting the threats posed by illegal and undocumented migrants.

After a trip earlier this fall to Israel, Biden addressed the nation about the need for more funding for Ukraine and Israel’s military campaigns.

Although Blinken’s latest visit was put together at the last minute, the senior administration official said the talks on Wednesday were not linked and were “completely separate” from Biden’s budget requests.

Nevertheless, the Mexicans realize how serious the issue is – not just for the US, but for Mexico as well. “One major takeaway is that Mexico has received over two million migrants this year, which is far more than they ever have in the past,” the official said. “So, Mexico is a destination country. It is grappling with a lot of the same challenges that we are domestically.”

Mexico has committed to working on these issues, and they understand its ripple effects. The official said the US was “really impressed” by some of the latest actions that Mexico has taken, leading to a “pretty significant reduction” in border crossings recently.

Biden was able to bring together a global coalition to support Ukraine after the US exposed Russia’s plans to further invade Ukraine in February 2022. However, apart from that, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, Chinese harassment of ships in the Indo-Pacific, more than 100 attacks on US troops in Syria and Iraq by Iran-backed militias since October, and a new war between Hamas and Israel continue to haunt the Biden administration.

“Without progress on the border crisis, Congress will likely continue to block the Biden administration from having the tools and resources it says it needs in the Middle East and Ukraine,” Katulis said. “What we’re seeing unfold now is the result of years of efforts by different movements on the right and left to make national security a partisan and ideological wedge issue in America’s politics.”

Read more: Massive migrant caravan departs southern Mexico en route to the United States

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