Biden to stop at border on trip to Mexico

Migration, trade on agenda for North American leaders

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks about border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washington. Biden will become the first U.S. leader to visit Mexico in nearly a decade. In the leadup to his visit, Biden announced a major border policy shift with Mexico's blessing that will result in the U.S. returning 30,000 migrants from other countries per month over the border. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks about border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washington. Biden will become the first U.S. leader to visit Mexico in nearly a decade. In the leadup to his visit, Biden announced a major border policy shift with Mexico's blessing that will result in the U.S. returning 30,000 migrants from other countries per month over the border. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)


WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden on Monday will become the first U.S. leader to visit Mexico in nearly a decade. Biden, along with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will gather Monday and Tuesday in Mexico City for a North American leaders summit.

Before arriving in Mexico City, Biden will stop today in the border city of El Paso, Texas. By visiting the border, Biden will be meeting demands from Republican officials as well as some of his Democratic allies to get a firsthand look at the situation. Critics say his administration has turned a blind eye to drug trafficking and human smuggling while failing to protect the country's sovereignty.

In the lead-up to the trip, Biden announced a major border policy shift, with Mexico's blessing, that will result in the United States sending 30,000 migrants from four other countries per month back across the border. In Mexico, Lopez Obrador's security forces nabbed one of the sons of imprisoned former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, touching off violence that left 30 dead and dozens injured. The son, Ovidio Guzman, is a reputed drug trafficker wanted by the United States.

Even with progress on the migration issue, there is much to discuss: climate change, manufacturing, trade, the economy and the potential global clout of a more collaborative North America.

Biden arrives at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City on Monday afternoon and the presidents will meet before Trudeau joins them for dinner. Biden and Trudeau will hold talks Tuesday and then the three will gather for discussions. It will be the first time since 2014 that Mexico has hosted a U.S. president.

Biden hopes to use the summit "to keep driving North America's economic competitiveness and help promote inclusive growth and prosperity," said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

For the U.S., the major talking points are migration, drug trafficking and building on Biden's push on electric vehicles and manufacturing.

Lopez Obrador is focused on economic integration for North America, supporting the poor in the Americas and regional relationships that put all governments on equal footing.

The U.S. and Mexico are expected to continue discussions about ending a dispute over U.S. corn after Mexico announced it would ban imports of genetically modified corn. In addition, Mexico is seeking money to boost solar energy projects.

As for Canada, the goal is simply "to carve some attention and space in this summit," said Louise Blais, a longtime Canadian diplomat.

Mexico sees the event as a chance to advance its economic interests.

It stands to benefit as U.S. companies reconsider their relationships with China after supply chain disruptions, coronavirus outbreaks and changes in federal policy. Mexico's proximity to the U.S. and existing trade agreements would be incentives for American factories to relocate south of the border. The U.S. imported more than $380 billion worth of goods from Mexico through the first 10 months of 2022 -- the third-largest source of imports after China and the European Union, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Canada is the fourth-largest U.S. partner by imports, with the State Department calling it "the world's most comprehensive trading relationship." The U.S. and Canada are each other's largest market for exports, and Canada is the largest foreign supplier of energy products to the U.S.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada are already in a long-standing trade agreement that was updated in 2020. When U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met last month with Mexico's secretary of the economy, Raquel Buenrostro, they discussed further economic integration as well as energy, fisheries and the trade agreement's ban on importing goods made by forced labor -- a subject that is among the tensions with China.

Analysts at Bank of America estimated in October that Mexico could increase its trade by as much as 30% if more supply chains returned to North America. Their report notes that there had already been a bump in Mexican manufacturing as U.S. policymakers and businesses increasingly focus on bringing more trade to allied countries that are near American consumers.

"Every country is arriving with different priorities, but there is common ground," said Enrique Perret, managing director of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, a think tank focused on cooperation between the two nations. "It's competitiveness, it's economy, it's education, it's labor mobility."

But it's not all rosy.

The leaders of Canada and Mexico have voiced concerns over Biden's "Buy America" plan. And while Biden's push toward electric vehicles is a boon to both nations because of the tax credits for North American batteries, there's concern the U.S. allies will be left behind.

Meantime, the U.S. and Canada accuse Lopez Obrador of trying to favor Mexico's state-owned utility over power plants built by foreign and private investors, something that is forbidden under the three countries' free trade pact.

The leaders did meet in Washington last November, but until then, there hadn't been a summit in five years and many of the current disputes have festered despite constant discussion. They include fentanyl trafficking, corn production, automobile rules of origin and Mexican energy laws.

"These topics are really complicated issues and they will not be solved in a two-day summit," said Carin Zissis of the Americas Society, a nonprofit dedicated to education, debate and dialogue in the Americas.

The chemistry between Biden and Lopez Obrador is tricky, too. Their relationship is highly transactional and absent any of the warmth and camaraderie Biden has with other world leaders.

Lopez Obrador has made no secret of his admiration of Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump. Lopez Obrador did not recognize Biden's election victory from November 2020 until after the formal Electoral College vote two months later.

Biden has raised concerns over security and drug trafficking in Mexico and the deaths of journalists there. The U.S. took issue with Lopez Obrador for boycotting the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last year over Biden's decision not to invite the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

VISIT TO EL PASO

Biden plans to stop in El Paso today for his first visit as president to the U.S.-Mexico border, just days after announcing that the U.S. will immediately begin turning away Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans who illegally cross into the U.S. from Mexico. The new policy is an effort to manage the spiraling numbers of migrants arriving at the border.

Mexico agreed each month to take 30,000 Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Haitians who walk or swim to the U.S. and are turned back, and the U.S. each month will offer 30,000 people from those four nations work permits for two years and a legal path if they come to the U.S. by plane, have eligible sponsors and pass background checks. People from those four countries now make up the most migrants crossing the border.

Biden's attempt to tackle border security issues has drawn considerable criticism from immigrant advocates and refugee rights groups, who say the changes are inhumane and reminiscent of Trump's hard-line approach.

Mayor Oscar Leeser -- a Democrat like Biden -- has said shelters and charity groups in his city have been overwhelmed as El Paso became a popular crossing point over the past few months.

Leeser even borrowed a tactic from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, who has been sharply critical of what he calls Biden's failures at the border. The city spent millions of dollars on buses to transport migrants released into the city to other locales in the U.S., including New York. Unlike the state, El Paso coordinated the trips with officials in the destination cities to make sure services were waiting for them upon arrival.

"El Paso has become the epicenter of the humanitarian crisis," said Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based advocacy group that pushes for immigration reform.

Leeser, who oversees a city of 700,000 people, a quarter of whom are themselves immigrants, has been a vocal proponent of comprehensive immigration reform. He said in an interview with NPR last month that "we cannot continue to go in this direction."

"As we all know, our immigration system is broken," Leeser said in a statement. "I look forward to discussing our immigration challenges with the president and working with him as we work to address them in the most humane way possible."

The city has a website where it recruits volunteers to aid the migrants and stresses a humanitarian approach. It has spent almost $10 million to bus migrants to other cities.

El Paso officials say they began seeing a significant increase in illegal crossings in late August, with the number of people processed by immigration authorities and then released to the city and local humanitarian agencies growing from 250 a day to more than 1,000 a day in September. The number of migrant encounters by the border patrol in the El Paso region surpassed 55,800 in November, the latest data available, which far exceeds the average monthly figures in fiscal 2020 and 2021.

Outside of immigration, the city is also an important trade hub between the U.S. and Mexico, with more than $80 billion in car parts, fruit, televisions and other imports and exports crossing through the city annually.

That flow was disrupted earlier this year when Abbott ordered state law enforcement officials to ramp up inspections of trucks coming from Mexico, a move he said was designed to deter smuggling, spurring shipping delays and backlash from Mexico's government.

Information for this article was contributed by Colleen Long, Maria Verza and Josh Boak of The Associated Press and Shelly Hagan and Justin Sink of Bloomberg News (TNS).

  photo  FILE - President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, July 12, 2022. Biden will become the first U.S. leader to visit Mexico in nearly a decade. In the leadup to his visit, Biden announced a major border policy shift with Mexico's blessing that will result in the U.S. returning 30,000 migrants from other countries per month over the border. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Central Illinois farmers deposit harvested corn on the ground outside a full grain elevator in Virginia, Ill., Sept. 23, 2015. The U.S. and Mexico are also expected to continue discussions to broker an agreement that would end a dispute over U.S. corn imports, after Mexico announced it would ban imports of genetically modified corn. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE- President Joe Biden looks to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a meeting of G7 and NATO leaders in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 16, 2022. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Biden and Trudeau, will gather in Mexico City on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, and Tuesday, Jan. 10, for a North American leaders summit. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Migrants wait to be processed to seek asylum after crossing the border into the United States, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, near Yuma, Ariz. Biden will become the first U.S. leader to visit Mexico in nearly a decade. In the leadup to his visit, Biden announced a major border policy shift with Mexico's blessing that will result in the U.S. returning 30,000 migrants from other countries per month over the border. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
 
 


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