(CNN) — The president of the United States, Joe Biden, and that of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, will meet at the White House this Tuesday in the midst of record migration in the hemisphere and high inflation that has affected both countries.
The United States and Mexico have historically supported each other on a wide range of issues, but the sometimes tense relationship came into public view recently when López Obrador opted to skip the Summit of the Americas — a meeting hosted by the United States — citing the US decision not to invite Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
The snub came at a time when the Biden administration was grappling with a growing number of immigrant arrivals at the US-Mexico border following deteriorating conditions in Latin America, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. The issue of migration is expected to be one of the top priorities during Tuesday’s meeting, according to senior administration officials who highlighted the close collaboration between the two countries on the matter.
“Cooperation on migration is a top priority for both President López Obrador and President Biden,” a senior administration official told reporters. “We see each other as equal partners in this.”
Following the meeting, the US and Mexico plan to launch a bilateral working group on labor migration pathways and worker protection, and “expand our diplomatic coordination on migration throughout the region,” according to the officials. Both countries have looked to labor pathways as a way to stem the flow of irregular migration.
This Tuesday, according to officials, the central issue will be the implementation of these efforts.
The administration is also expected to announce joint actions Tuesday to improve border infrastructure, such as investing in ports of entry, enhancing law enforcement cooperation to disrupt fentanyl distribution, and promoting clean energy, economic innovation. and prosperity, officials said.
“I think this is the opportunity for the two leaders to look each other in the eye and try to understand what they can really achieve in the relationship,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
Despite López Obrador’s absence from the Summit of the Americas in June, Mexico signed a declaration, along with other countries, to address migration in the Western Hemisphere. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that Biden and López Obrador would build on those commitments, among other issues.
“We look forward to the two leaders discussing their common vision for North America, and common efforts to address global challenges, including Russia’s war in Ukraine,” Sullivan told reporters.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s meeting, López Obrador admitted that migration is “central” in his discussions with Biden and noted that Mexico has been “insisting on supporting Central America and also on increasing temporary work visas, making the migratory flow”.
This comes with added urgency after 53 migrants died in a sweltering truck in San Antonio, Texas, last month in what authorities described as the “worst human smuggling incident” in the United States. Twenty-six of the victims were Mexican citizens, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement.
Human smuggling is expected to be one of the topics discussed by the two presidents.
“The San Antonio tragedy is one of the main concerns of both the United States and Mexico,” a senior administration official said, adding that work is already underway to tackle the human smuggling ring and that they are maintaining talks to move it forward.
The Biden administration last month announced the launch of what it called an “unprecedented” operation to disrupt human trafficking networks. The operation includes the deployment of hundreds of troops throughout Latin America and a multi-million dollar investment.
“It is recognized that much more needs to be done in this regard,” the senior administration official said. “Arrests are great, but we need prosecutions. That’s one area where the United States and Mexico can do more. I think that’s going to be an important part of the conversation. How can we increase prosecutions?”
Other areas of discussion are expected to be the dismantling of networks and the detection of “the entire chain from beginning to end of the different actors that are involved in the criminal movement of people.”
Vice President Kamala Harris will also host López Obrador at the Naval Observatory on Tuesday, ahead of his scheduled bilateral with Biden, according to Harris’ press secretary Kirsten Allen. They will discuss issues such as migration and other aid to the region.
Harris met with López Obrador repeatedly as vice president, as part of her role to address the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle. She has also hosted other world leaders at the vice president’s residence, including former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.