Summit of the Americas: An Opportunity to Address Hemispheric Migration

The United States will host the ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles from June 6 through 10. The summit, which presidents and prime ministers from most of the 35 nations of the Americas will attend, represents a significant opportunity for the Biden administration to cooperatively address the increasing regional migration on a hemispheric basis. Sharing best practices and perspectives from countries of origin, transit, and destination is critical to developing and implementing smart regional migration policies.

The United States, as the primary recipient of migrants in the hemisphere and the world’s leading economy, must lead by example. Hence, the Summit of the Americas will be the ideal platform for President Biden to tell regional leaders and the American people that immigrants in the United States are the solution, not the problem. The summit represents an opportunity for President Biden to highlight the United States’ longstanding commitment to humanitarian protections while forging bonds within the hemisphere to tackle the root causes of migration.

Facing elevated levels of border apprehensions amid persistent labor shortages, Biden faces a unique and challenging set of circumstances. In laying out a principled defense of immigrants and immigration, President Biden needs to strike the right balance between reaffirming the United States as a nation of welcome and explaining the need to ensure orderly border processing. He must reiterate that the 45 million immigrants who live in the U.S. are essential to our country’s economy, culture, and well-being. At the same time, he should work to promote stability and human rights throughout the hemisphere.

As important members of our congregations, communities, and workforce, immigrants continue to be a source of strength for the United States. Immigrant workers make up 17.4 percent of the labor force in the United States, across all economic sectors, with a particularly large concentration in the agriculture, hospitality, technology, and health care sectors.

Biden also must speak to the need for increased stability not only at the U.S. southern border but throughout the Americas. In response to the economic devastation the COVID-19 pandemic caused, significant gang violence, and the ongoing impacts of climate change, the last decade has seen growing numbers of migrants from Central America and elsewhere seeking protection in the United States.

This ongoing irregular migration has been exploited by transnational criminal organizations, creating a human smuggling market across the U.S.-Mexico border with annual revenues ranging between $2 billion and $6 billion. Migrants fleeing their countries are forced to pay between $1,000 and $15,000 to “coyotes” to cross into the United States, risking their lives. In 2021, at least 650 people died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

In recent months, the number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has reached historic levels. In fiscal year (FY) 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered more than 1.6 million migrants attempting to cross the border between ports of entry. In FY 2022, the number of border-crossers remains at elevated levels.

Thus the summit also represents an opportunity for the Biden administration to promote orderly processing and management at the U.S. southern border. Regarding root causes, Biden can highlight regional efforts to tackle corruption, fight transnational crime, address climate-related challenges and provide alternatives for displaced persons to help them remain safely in their home countries. The goal of the United States in this regard is to make migration a last resort for those seeking to escape danger and persecution, eventually easing the influx at the U.S. southern border.

President Biden can promote U.S. leadership in the hemisphere. Working with our summit partners, the United States should play a prominent role in increasing hemispheric stability and protecting the livelihoods of the citizens of the Americas.

As a beacon of hope for millions of immigrants in search of a better life, the United States has long been the hemisphere’s leading recipient of refugees and asylum seekers. Accordingly, the Summit of the Americas is the ideal opportunity for the U.S. to show leadership and empathy while fostering cooperation across the hemisphere. By upholding the value of migrants and promoting regional stability, the Biden administration can reaffirm the U.S.’s role as a welcoming nation while promoting the dignity and rights of those who leave their countries in search of a better life.

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