MEXICO CITY — The United States and Mexico began revising an outdated security agreement on Friday to better deal with the flow of criminal activity between the two nations, but officials at the high-level talks tried conspicuously to avoid focused on the deepening migrant crisis on their shared border.
It was a striking omission, given the thousands of people, mostly from Central America and the Caribbean, who gathered on the Mexican side of the border, many in squalid camps, seeking entry into the United States.
And it underlined the slowness of both administrations in finding a comprehensive solution to managing the crisis, especially after the US Supreme Court in August overturned President Biden’s attempts to let some migrants in by overturning asylum restrictions imposed by the Trump administration. ease, rejected.
Instead, top diplomats and immigration, defense, economic and legal officials from Mexico and the United States began on Friday to discuss a replacement for the Mérida Initiative, a security agreement signed in 2008.
That deal allowed millions of dollars in weapons to flow from the United States government to its counterparts in Mexico and Central America as part of a larger plan to fight drug trafficking. But it failed to dismantle criminal organizations or restore security; instead, since the agreement was signed, Mexico has experienced the worst violence it has ever seen.
Immigration was not completely ignored on Friday: both sides said the migrant crisis was discussed during talks, including over breakfast with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said at a news conference that cooperation between the United States and Mexico in managing migrants “has never been stronger” and suggested that both countries engage other regional leaders to help, in part by focusing on the wider economic and social issues driving migration.
“We want the Mexico-US relationship to be about more, much more than immigration and security,” said Mr Blinken.
But officials said the new security deal would be mainly about stopping traffickers and other criminal smugglers rather than the wider problem of refugees and economic migrants trapped at the border.
Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said the new bilateral agreement — a three-year deal expected to be finalized in January — could provide a robust framework to create more jobs in Mexico and Central America while strengthen security cooperation. By focusing on development, Mexican officials believe the new agreement could also help stem migration to the United States.
“Re-opening operations at the border is a priority for Mexico,” Mr Ebrard said, referring to a United States decision last year to close land crossings at the border with Mexico to curb the spread of the coronavirus. . “They know it’s a priority, but it wasn’t the purpose of today’s meeting.”
On Friday, 15 Democratic Senators and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, in Washington urged Mr. Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas to ensure that Haitian migrants are protected — both those trying to enter the United States. to come as those trying to enter the United States. deported. Recent footage of US border patrol officers on horseback rounding up Haitian migrants in Texas has been met with widespread anger, drawing extra attention to a broken immigration system.
“Ensuring the integrity of America’s borders is paramount and is not incompatible with the fundamental duty to respect the dignity, humanity and rights of all individuals seeking entry into the United States,” the senators wrote in a statement Friday. letter.
On Friday, the Biden administration raised its target for refugee admission to 125,000 by 2022. “A robust refugee admission program is a cornerstone of the president’s commitment to restore a safe, orderly and humane migration system,” said Mr Blinken in a statement.
Mexican officials hope the new security deal will focus less on confronting drug traffickers and instead look at the root causes of addiction — treating it as a medical issue, not a criminal one — and address the appalling economic conditions that cause underemployed youth to to join drug organizations.
The Mérida initiative focused in part on what is known as the “kingpin strategy” of catching or killing leading drug traffickers. But it failed to wipe out the drug flow from Mexico and Central America, and the next generation of traffickers stood ready to take the place of those caught or killed.
Mexico’s priority in the talks is to find a way to reduce the astronomical levels of violence that have engulfed the country since the start of the Mérida initiative. In 2008, 12.6 murders were recorded for every 100,000 people in Mexico; by 2018, that number had risen to 29, according to World Bank data.
“The Mexicans want to say we ended this, we ended this thing that started a very violent chapter for Mexico,” said Carin Zissis, the editor-in-chief of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
The violence is the result of two factors, analysts believe: the Mérida Initiative’s focus on all-out war with drug gangs and lax gun laws in the United States that have resulted in thousands of weapons being smuggled into Mexico and Central America each year.
During the Obama administration, the United States cut some of its security funding over concerns about human rights violations by the Mexican government. Those concerns have not abated: Last year, the State Department concluded in its annual human rights report that Mexican security forces and other government officials had tortured detainees, made arbitrary arrests, committed violence against journalists and exploited children for labor.
A sign of how negotiations are progressing, Ms. Zissis said, will be whether Drug Enforcement Administration agents will be allowed to work in Mexico again. Mexico has withheld visas from DEA agents since last year’s arrest in California of General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, a former defense secretary, on suspicion of aiding drug traffickers. The arrest sparked outrage within the Mexican government, which demanded the general’s extradition and subsequently curtailed cooperation with the DEA.
Prior to Friday’s talks, Mr. Blinken, Mr. Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland met with the President of Mexico.
“There are other times in history when we distanced ourselves, but there are also things that unite us,” said Mr López Obrador at the presidential palace. “We have to understand each other.”