U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to Panama on Tuesday in a new diplomatic effort to check migration in Latin America, which is a growing cause of political headaches despite the global focus on Ukraine.
The top US diplomat's two-day trip, his first to Latin America this year, comes weeks before President Joe Biden's administration ends the pandemic restrictions that allowed swift expulsions to Mexico.
Blinken and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will meet Wednesday in Panama City with counterparts from more than 20 countries in the Western Hemisphere to discuss cooperation on migration.
Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, said that we must work with governments throughout the region to make progress on managing irregular migration and addressing the protection needs of the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere.
More than 221,000 people were arrested on the Mexican border in March, the highest for a single month in more than two decades.
The spike comes as people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras flee to dire poverty, rampant violence and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change.
The United States is not the only nation that is experiencing migration strains. The economic and political crisis in Venezuela has resulted in an exodus of more than six million people, with neighboring Colombia taking the most.
Nichols said the Panama talks, which follow a similar regional meeting in October in Colombia, would seek to boost support for nations that welcome refugees through multinational institutions.
The international community spends more than 10 times more on each refugee from Syria compared to each Venezuelan migrant, according to a Brookings Institution study.
More than 4.9 million people fled to Russia on February 24 due to the sudden migration from Ukraine.
There's going to be less and less appetite from the international community to support migrants in the Western Hemisphere while there's a major migration crisis in Russia, according to Jason Marczak, an expert on Latin America at the Atlantic Council.
It's important to have Secretary Blinken along with Secretary Mayorkas there in Panama to avoid that becoming an afterthought for the global community. Marczak said the Biden administration was looking at a regional plan to make sure no one country is overburdened by higher numbers of migrants, and that countries can maximize the opportunities that migrants present. In much of the West, Ukrainian refugees have received a warmer welcome than did most Muslim migrants from Syria and Afghanistan.
Biden has promised to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, drawing little protests from the Republican Party, the former president Donald Trump's Republican Party, who has generally made opposition to immigration a core issue.
Biden has promised to look at the root causes of migration and take a more human approach than Trump.
Despite the criticism of refugee advocates that the arrangement puts vulnerable people in danger, the Biden administration was forced by courts to maintain a Trump policy in which migrants wait in Mexico while their cases are processed.
The Biden administration will end Trump policy on May 23 when the United States cited the Covid 19 crisis to expel migrants summarily without interviewing them.
The end of so-called Title 42, half a year before congressional elections, has been a rallying cry for Republican lawmakers who are ordinarily eager to end pandemic restrictions.