Mexico’s president said Friday that he is willing to help out with a surge of migrants that led to the closure of border crossings with the United States, but he wants the U.S. government to open talks with Cuba and send more development aid to migrants’ home countries.
The comments by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came a day after the U.S. announced that a delegation of top U.S. officials would visit Mexico for talks on how to enforce immigration rules at the two countries’ shared border.
Also Friday, U.S. authorities reopened two cross-border railroad crossings in Texas, while keeping operations limited or suspended at other border crossings. And figures released Friday show arrests for crossing the U.S. border from Mexico nudged 1.2% higher in November from October, one of the latest signs of what Troy Miller, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, described this week as “unprecedented” migration flows.
López Obrador confirmed that U.S. officials want Mexico to do more to block migrants at its southern border with Guatemala, or make it more difficult to move across Mexico by train or in trucks or buses, a policy known as “contention.”
But the president said that in exchange he wanted the United States to send more development aid to migrants’ home countries, and to reduce or eliminate sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela.
“We are going to help, as we always do,” López Obrador said. “Mexico is helping reach agreements with other countries, in this case Venezuela.”
“We also want something done about the (U.S.) differences with Cuba,” López Obrador said. “We have already proposed to President (Joe) Biden that a U.S.-Cuba bilateral dialogue be opened.”
“That is what we are going to discuss, it is not just contention,” he said at his daily morning press briefing.
Mexico is apparently offering to negotiate with Venezuela, whose people make up a large part of the surge of migrants at the U.S. southwestern border. That surge has led U.S. officials to pull immigration officers away from two Texas border rail crossings that are vital to Mexico’s economy.
López Obrador has long opposed U.S. sanctions on Cuba, whose migrants are also streaming to the U.S. border. And the Mexican president has long pressed the United States to contribute to a tree-planting program and to youth scholarship and apprentice programs that he has been pushing for Central America.
López Obrador said the development aid will help stem residents’ need to migrate.
The Mexico-U.S. meetings come as Republican and Democratic lawmakers are debating border policy changes as part of a larger conversation over U.S. assistance for Ukraine and Israel, which are top foreign policy priorities for the White House.
Pressure mounted on Mexico following the closure of two railroad crossings in Texas earlier this week. U.S. officials said personnel assigned to the locations needed to be redeployed to help with large numbers of migrants illegally crossing the border. Mexican businesses warned the closures were hampering trade.
The Texas rail crossings in Eagle Pass and El Paso reopened Friday after widespread backlash from U.S. and Mexican businesses, but a border crossing remained closed in Lukeville, Arizona, and operations were partially suspended in San Diego and Nogales, Arizona. The closures were done to reassign officials to help with processing migrants.
López Obrador spoke by telephone with Biden on Thursday and agreed that additional border enforcement was needed so the crossings can be reopened, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
Kirby said Biden asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall to travel to Mexico for talks with López Obrador and his team.
A U.S. official said the trip would likely happen the Wednesday after Christmas.
“Their visit will really be about getting at the migratory flows and talking to President López Obrador and his team about what more we can do together,” Kirby said at a White House briefing.
In November, the Border Patrol made 191,113 arrests for illegal border crossings from Mexico, or a daily average of 6,370, its parent agency announced. That’s down 8% from November 2022 but the fourth monthly increase since July. U.S. authorities have reported surging numbers in December, with arrests above 10,000 some days.
Mexicans were the largest nationality in November arrests, followed by Guatemalans, Venezuelans, Hondurans and Colombians. Nearly 4,800 Chinese were arrested, largely in the San Diego area.
By Nadeem Faisal Baiga