Faced with the prospect of eventually reopening its southern border to asylum seekers, the US government is urging Latin American allies to tighten immigration controls and expand their asylum programs.
US President Joe Biden is under mounting pressure from his party leaders to end restrictions in place since March 2020 to limit transmission of COVID-19.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas met with Costa Rican officials on Tuesday, while he held talks with Mexico a day earlier. Support from allies will be crucial to stemming the sudden rise in immigration when these restrictions are lifted.
The two countries are crucial, they have their own asylum rules and are transit routes into the United States for immigrants from South America and from outside the American continent.
Last month, Costa Rica began requiring entry visas to Venezuelans and Cubans, a measure to curb their migration north. Mexico, which was already requesting visas for Cubans, added Venezuelans in January.
US authorities encountered Venezuelans at the border with Mexico 3,072 times in February, compared to 22,779 the previous month. These figures published on Tuesday show the impact of the new Mexican demand on Venezuelans, in force since January 21. Colombians do not need a visa to travel to Mexico, and they encountered 9,600 times, compared to 3,911 times in January.
In total, US authorities encountered immigrants 164,973 times in February, well below the peak of 200,000 in August, but more than 154,745 times in January and 101,099 times in February 2021, according to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
In his State of the Union address weeks ago, Biden said, “We’ve got commitments and partners in South and Central America to take in more refugees and secure their borders.”
Biden expanded those remarks last week, when he received Colombian President Ivan Duque at the White House.
“I am calling for a new framework for how countries in the region collectively manage migration in the Western Hemisphere,” Biden said. “Our goal… is to sign a regional declaration on immigration and protection in June in Los Angeles, when the United States will host the Summit of the Americas.”
With a more regional approach to asylum, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia could be considered safe havens, said Alan Bersin, who was the head of Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama.
“To control the immigration booms at the borders, we must offer asylum abroad” in other countries, Bersin said. “This kind of regional approach to immigration is going to be crucial.”
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