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The Biden administration will introduce additional measures at a summit of North American leaders on Tuesday in a desperate bid to prevent migrants from traveling to the southern border of the United States.
The last set of efforts come at a a time of unprecedented movement in the Western Hemisphere and are designed to curb border crossings while making legal migration programs to the United States, Mexico and Canada more accessible, according to a senior administration official.
But the success of these measures depends on whether migrants see these options as viable, especially when they are urgently fleeing deteriorating conditions in their home countries.
During his presidency, Joe Biden confronted changing migration patterns which pose unique challenges to administration and stretch federal and local resources. The issue, in turn, has increasingly become a political vulnerability for the administration — drawing fierce criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike — and a key point of discussion with partners to the south, primarily Mexico.
Ahead of Tuesday’s summit, administration officials stressed the need for a regional response that shares responsibility for stemming the flow of migration between hemispheric partners. Tuesday’s announcement is a reflection of that.
The Biden administration is expected to announce a virtual platform that will serve as a one-stop shop for migrants to find information about the legal pathways they might be eligible for — either in the U.S., Mexico or Canada — and the opening of a new resource center in southern Mexico, the senior administration official said.
“The United States, Mexico and Canada will commit to enabling migrants to access our legal pathways through one platform,” the senior administration official told CNN.
The virtual portal is, in part, a recognition of the challenges migrants face in trying to identify legal pathways to coming to the U.S. and then navigating the often difficult and arduous process of doing so. Instead, people often look to smugglers who spread misinformation about U.S. policies to travel north — a hurdle for the Biden administration as it tries to discourage migrants from taking that route.
“This is an experiment,” the senior administration official said, citing recently launched programs for certain nationalities who want to come to the United States.
The portal is under construction and expected to come together in the next few months.
“We’re always in competition with smugglers, so we think having easy-to-access, easy-to-use virtual platforms is really important … but then centers where people can go and know they can trust the people there and to get accurate information and even be targeted based on intake and interviews,” the official added.
As part of that effort, the U.S. is also working with Mexico to open physical centers where migrants can get information on how to apply for U.S. migration, mirroring the migrant resource center launched in Guatemala. A new center will be set up in Tapachula, a city in southern Mexico through which thousands of migrants pass through on their way to the US-Mexico border.
“We know this is a transit location and so the center can help people stay where they are and apply from there,” the senior administration official said.
The announcement raises questions among immigration advocates, who say its effectiveness is simply unknown.
“It’s a huge, huge open question,” said one immigration advocate, saying that while such an online platform could prove useful to thousands of asylum seekers, it could also prove “out of reach” for many.
The portal is still under construction and may not be revealed for several months, so details are still up in the air. One big factor, experts say, is how the administration will determine whether a person is disqualified from seeking asylum in the United States.
The National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, John Kirby, said Monday that migration would be a “main issue for discussion” at this week’s summit.
“There’s no doubt that migration will be a leading issue here for the next 24, 36 hours. It’s clearly on everybody’s mind here in the hemisphere,” Kirby told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota on Monday, citing Mexico’s recent commitment to take in thousands of non-Mexican migrants who cross the border illegally and don’t apply to come to the U.S. through new programs .
Kirby said the leaders will also discuss the root causes of migration, praising Vice President Kamala Harris’ work on the issue while indicating the topic will be a major topic of conversation during the trip.
Tuesday’s summit builds on last year’s meeting in Los Angeles, where Western Hemisphere countries committed to the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. The summit was a point of contention between the US and Mexico when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador snubbed the gathering over disagreements over who was invited. Mexican officials did attend the meeting.
The North American Leaders Summit marks the six-month anniversary of that declaration.
“We have a very ambitious agenda, and that’s why the U.S. has so many commitments on the table at the beginning of this, and we continue to push for other countries,” the senior administration official said, stressing that the challenge will not be solved overnight.
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