Washington, Jul 12 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden on Tuesday responded to Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s calls for changes to American immigration policy by urging him to remain patient.
He touted his achievements to date in easing the immigration pressures that have seen record numbers of undocumented migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border and also took a shot at the opposition Republican Party for their “extreme” positions.
“My administration is leading the way to creating work opportunities through legal pathways. And last year, my administration set a record. We issued more than 300,000 H-2 visas for Mexican workers,” the Democratic head of state said before his meeting with AMLO at the White House’s Oval Office, their second face-to-face gathering. “We also reached a five-year high in the visas we issued to Central Americans.”
The human cost of the immigration issue was front and center at the meeting after the June 27 discovery on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas, of the bodies of 53 migrants – 26 of them Mexican – in and around an abandoned tractor-trailer.
Those deaths, caused by heat exposure and asphyxiation, occurred during an apparent illegal migrant smuggling attempt.
MORE VISAS AND REGULARIZATION OF STATUS
In an nearly half-hour speech, unusually long for these types of meetings, Lopez Obrador asked Biden to carry out an initiative along the lines of then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Bracero Program, which was launched in 1942 to bring Mexican laborers to the US to replace men who were leaving farms to fight in World War II.
Lopez Obrador said the US once again has a manual labor shortage and urged Biden’s administration to issue temporary visas that would allow “workers, technicians and professionals of different disciplines” to enter the country.
He also urged Biden to fulfill his promise to push through an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the US.
“And it’s also indispensable that I say this in a very sincere fashion in the most respectful manner: It is indispensable for us to regularize and give certainty to migrants that have for years lived and worked in a very honest manner, and who are also contributing to the development of this great nation,” AMLO said.
The US president did not respond directly to the Mexican president’s call for regularizing of the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants in the US but did use the opportunity to take a jab at pro-Donald Trump Republicans.
“We have liberals, moderates, conservatives, and extreme conservatives. I’m waiting for the Republican Party to come back to traditional conservative positions,” he said.
Biden and most of his Democratic allies are strong proponents of an immigration overhaul, but so-called comprehensive immigration reform is highly unpopular among many Republican voters who see it as nothing more than amnesty for lawbreakers.
Immigration reform has little chance of passage in the 50-50 US Senate because under that body’s filibuster rules 10 Republicans would have to join with their political adversaries in supporting such a bill.
In his remarks, Biden also stressed the need to strengthen border security and combat people-smuggling rings that are responsible for tragedies like the one in San Antonio.
In that regard, he recalled that his administration is delivering $3.4 billion to major construction projects at Mexico-US ports of entry to make the border safer and more efficient for people and commerce.
Also hovering over the meeting was elevated inflation in both countries.
Mexico’s consumer price index hit 7.99 percent in June, that country’s highest level in 21 years, while in the US the inflation rate came in at 8.6 percent in May, its highest point in four decades.
To help bring prices down, Lopez Obrador proposed a plan to immediately increase Mexico’s gasoline inventories and guarantee twice the amount of fuel, recalling that many Americans are crossing the border into Mexico to acquire cheaper gas.
He also urged the US to suspend some tariffs that remain in place in spite of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and called for the launch of a bilateral private-public investment plan to avoid the need to import products from China and other countries.
Tuesday marked the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face since Lopez Obrador opted not to attend last month’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in protest over the US’s decision to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The US says it made that decision due to concerns about a lack of democracy and respect for human rights in those three countries.
AMLO arrived via commercial jet in Washington on Monday.
After meeting with Biden, he visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials on Tuesday.
He is scheduled to meet with business leaders from both countries on Wednesday before returning to his homeland.
Lopez Obrador is being accompanied on the trip by his wife, Beatriz Gutierrez Muller; Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard; Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier; Agriculture and Rural Development Secretary Victor Manuel Villalobos; and the head of the National Institute of Migration, Francisco Garduño, among other officials. EFE
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