Mon. Jul 15th, 2024
Senior Administration Officials Previewing the U.S.-Mexico-Guatemala Trilateral Ministerial Meeting on Migration

MODERATOR:  Hello, everyone, and welcome to our call previewing the U.S.-Mexico-Guatemala trilateral ministerial meeting on migration.  This call will be on background to senior administration officials and it’s embargoed until 12:00 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, the 28th of February.  For your information only and not for reporting, joining us today are, from the White House, [Senior Administration Official One]; from the Department of State, [Senior Administration Official Two], and from the Department of Homeland Security, [Senior Administration Official Three].

We’ll take brief opening remarks from our speakers, then we will turn it over to you all for your questions.  And with that, let’s please turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One].  Please, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Great, thanks for – thanks for that and thanks, everybody, for joining.  We wanted to share the information that tomorrow we’re hosting the first trilateral ministerial meeting on migration between Guatemala, Mexico, and the White House.  This will be led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and White House Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall will represent the U.S. Government, among others.  Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena will participate on behalf of the Government of Mexico, and Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martínez and Minister of Interior Francisco José Jimenez Irungaray will represent the Government of Guatemala.

We see this meeting as an important opportunity to further our trilateral cooperation on issues related to economic development, border enforcement, labor mobility pathways, and orderly, humane, and regular migration in the region.  As I know all of you know, Mexican and Guatemalan nationals represent two of the most represented nationalities that we encounter at our southwest border currently, which is why this joint collaborative effort is so and critically important.  We are also particularly excited about this new step in our bilateral relationship with the Government of Guatemala following the election and then the inauguration of President Arévalo and President Arévalo’s commitment to address migration, border security, and anti-corruption efforts.

There are four key agenda items scheduled for tomorrow’s meeting.  First is collaboration to address the root causes of irregular migration and highlight the Arévalo administration’s efforts to do so, among other efforts as well; opportunities to – second, opportunities to deepen our trilateral efforts to expand legal pathways, including labor migration pathways; third, work on joint commitments to strengthen the management of irregular migration flows; and fourth, coordination on future ministerial-level meetings related to migration.

Just to be clear, this is not merely a meeting just to talk about the problem.  Out of the meeting we expect to make several important announcements about commitments for deeper cooperation, including first that Guatemala will be the host of the next Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection ministerial meeting this coming April; secondly, the creation of a U.S.-Mexico-Guatemala operational cell to jointly tackle migration issues, and I know [Senior Administration Official Three] will speak more about this as well; and finally, we plan to issue a joint statement that showcases our joint commitment to further trilateral cooperation on migration and related matters.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Two] to add a little bit more color.

MODERATOR:  [Senior Administration Official Two], go ahead.  [Senior Administration Official Two], are you there?  We might have lost him.

Okay.  While the team – [Senior Administration Official Two], are you there?

Okay.  Can we turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three] to speak in the meantime while the team dials [Senior Administration Official Two] back in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Sure.  Hi, everybody.  So we expect a part of the conversation is – oh, go ahead, [Senior Administration Official Two].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Apologies.  Can you hear me now?  Sorry about that.

MODERATOR:  Yes, we have you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Okay, I can go ahead, unless you’d like to go, [Senior Administration Official Three].


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Okay, apologies.  Thank you very much.  The U.S. Government continues to engage in a comprehensive, long-term effort to enhance cooperation on migration management and regional development in our hemisphere.  And so during tomorrow’s trilateral meeting, in addition to the critical discussions on border management and enforcement, Secretary Blinken will discuss the need to continue our important work to address the root causes of irregular migration and displacement.

To achieve our goals and ensure individuals do not embark on the dangerous journey north in the first place, we’re focused on creating good jobs, promoting democratic governance, protecting human rights, and improving security to help people in our hemisphere build better lives at home.  We’re committed to promoting respect for human rights and fostering inclusive economic prosperity for all people throughout the region.

Part of this means combating and rooting out corruption and reducing gender-based violence, and we cannot accomplish these goals alone.  The longstanding challenges before us require sustained attention and reliable partners like Guatemala and Mexico.  We welcome the opportunity to work closely with President Bernardo Arévalo to deepen our root causes work, including through the leadership of Vice President Harris and her Central America Forward Initiative, which has promoted $4.2 billion in new investments in northern Central America.

In addition to this, this administration has led the largest expansion of lawful migration pathways to the United States in decades.  Those who seek to migrate should have the opportunity to do so safely and lawfully, and we want to continue to expand lawful pathways so people can migrate through safe, regular modes of travel rather than paying smugglers who put their lives in danger and do not provide safe and lawful entry to the United States.

Among other lawful pathways, at tomorrow’s ministerial the Secretary will discuss further expanding the labor pathway, one of our most successful lawful pathway initiatives.  In 2023, we issued over 442,000 visas to temporary and seasonal workers.  Those who work here through labor pathways contribute to the U.S. economy and send money back home to support friends and family and invest in their futures.

So thank you very much, and apologies again for the technical difficulty.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Three], please.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Yes, thank you very much, and thanks to [Senior Administration Official One] and [Senior Administration Official Two] for their excellent overviews.  We anticipate part of the conversation tomorrow will focus on ways that we can deepen our already strong collaboration with both Mexico and Guatemala on migration management and border enforcement matters.  We have a long history of working bilaterally with both governments on this issue, as I think everybody is aware.

And one of the key, I think, goals of the meeting tomorrow from the Department of Homeland Security standpoint is to foster more trilateral cooperation between all three governments on this matter.  And as such, as [Senior Administration Official One] noted, one of the deliverables that we hope to announce tomorrow is a new trilateral working group that will share best practices and focus on ways that we can, again, enhance an already strong collaboration with both governments, but bring it all together so that we are working seamlessly across all three governments.

And with that, I think we can stop and take your questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you so much.  AT&T Moderator, would you just mind please repeating the instructions for joining the question queue?

OPERATOR:  Certainly.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  If you’re using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Once again, if you have a question, please press 1 then 0.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you.  Can we please go to the line of Tracy Wilkinson from the Los Angeles Times?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  A couple of quick questions.  Many people think that the Root Causes Strategy has largely failed, and the goals you mentioned, [Senior Administration Official Two], tonight are again the same things we’ve been hearing for a long time – better governance, human rights, corruption, eliminating gender-based violence.  Little – those are all scourges that continue to exist in these countries.  So my question is:  What else can you all do, or is there another way to – to put forward those goals?

My second question has to do with López Obrador, who is really mad at the United States these days.  So my question is what you’re doing to sort of reassure him and keep him on board with the immigration plans.  I know your Ambassador Salazar has been going all around the country assuring people that the United States is not investigating López Obrador.  What else can you do?

And lastly, I understand you’re asking Mexico to take more and more of the deportees, the people that are being removed from the country.  How – what can they do really though about citizens from places like China and Afghanistan?  Is it fair to ask them, ask Mexico, to take people from countries so far afield?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Thanks, Tracy.  I can take the first two questions, then turn to my colleague from DHS for the third question.

In terms of the Root Causes Strategy, this is certainly a long-term effort that requires lots of work from throughout the U.S. Government, throughout international organizations, foundations, and otherwise.  We believe that it has been successful and that you asked about other efforts that could be taken.  I think the best example I could give you is the support from the United States and other members of the international community for Guatemala’s democratic transition over the last several months.  And I think that that effort shows that through strong diplomacy, through the use of other tools such as sanctions, and through our assistance through the Root Causes Strategy, we can help support countries as they strive for better outcomes.

In terms of the United States and Mexico, we share a strong economic and security partnership that really has made North America the most competitive and dynamic region in the world.  Our deep familiar and cultural ties unite our peoples in ways that has enriched both countries for generations.  Mexico is the U.S. top trading partner.  The U.S.-Mexico relationship remains among the most complex and consequential for the American people.  And if you just look at 2022, our bilateral trade hit a record $860 billion, which means – which is basically over $1.5 million exchanged every minute.

So we remain committed as enduring partners on a number of fronts, including through the Bicentennial Security Framework where we counter illicit fentanyl and arms trafficking by dismantling criminal networks, but also as enduring partners to humanely reduce the unprecedented irregular migration flows in the region.

And in addition to that, to go back to your question of root causes, together we’re partnering to address the root causes that drive irregular migration and also work together on lawful pathways and the improvement of enforcement efforts.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Thanks, [Senior Administration Official Two].  In terms of the extra-hemispheric migration that we are seeing, I can say that it is an issue that is of deep concern for many governments in the region – not just us and not just Mexico.  We have been working with governments all over the hemisphere to address the routes that migrants from outside of the Western Hemisphere are taking to travel into the hemisphere and ultimately up to our border, and that includes Chinese nationals.

In terms of returns to Mexico, I will just note that we are not currently returning nationals of the countries you referenced to Mexico.  We are, as I think everybody knows, for the first time in our bilateral relationship with Mexico effectuating Title 8 removals and returns of third-country nationals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.  And that collaboration has been strong and is ongoing.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Can we please go to the line of Ted Hesson from Reuters?

QUESTION:  Thank you all for doing the call.  I know you’ve mentioned here how Mexico is a strong partner with the U.S., and I’ve heard Biden officials in the past say Mexico is a stable democracy and a good partner.  Is there a reason why Mexico couldn’t be a safe third country the way Canada is, and wouldn’t that address many of the issues that you’re facing in regards to asylum and migration?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  So I can probably start us off.  We have not had conversations with the Government of Mexico about safe third country status, and there are no current plans to do so.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  Barring any other interventions from our speakers, can we please go to the line of Rafael Bernal from The Hill?

QUESTION:  Thank you for having this.  Just a couple quick questions, two sides of the same coin.  How are Guatemala’s sort of newfound democratic bona fides helping you deal with Guatemala?  Like what are the advantages, the immediate advantages, of Arévalo?  And the flip side:  With Mexico and the opposition’s accusations of democratic backsliding, some very believable accusations in that sense, what concerns or what risks do you see in putting – in giving Mexico such a big role?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  Great question.  So these are both extremely strong partners on migration management.  We share a border with Mexico, so obviously they’re going to have a big role in anything we do on the migration front, and you’ve seen high-level cooperation and a number of senior meetings in December, January, and (inaudible) February.

With regard to Guatemala and the Arévalo government, I would say that even from the start they have taken a number of efforts with regard to border management.  As one example, their border police suffered from corruption, and they are taking steps to clean up that force.  With support from the international community, they’re looking to do a lot more under the Los Angeles Declaration.  So we see them as a valuable partner not only on migration management but also on root causes and a wide array of issues.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Rebecca Santana from the Associated Press?

QUESTION:  Hi, thanks so much.  This is a question for [Senior Administration Official Three] but others as well.  The numbers of – and border encounters plummeted from January – from December to January, and a number of officials have noted the role that Mexico played in greater border enforcement that led to that basically halving of the numbers.  Can you describe a little bit more in detail about what exactly Mexico did that you’re crediting them with?  And are you continuing to see that same action?  Are they being as aggressive as they were in January?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Yeah, thanks for that question.  I would say a couple things.  I think one is just to note that this is normally the time of year when we do see reductions in encounters; and so while we do believe that the actions the Government of Mexico has been taking have helped contribute to the decline in encounters at our border, I think it is also seasonally when we expect to see fewer encounters as well and have historically seen that over the last few years and really over the last couple decades.

In terms of the actions Mexico has taken, I would really refer you to the Government of Mexico to talk about what specific actions they are taking, but we have a longstanding collaboration in terms of coordinating enforcement actions on both sides of the border.  We have also – in December saw the increasing use of commercial cargo or freight trains to bring migrants illicitly quickly up to the border, and we know that they have been addressing that issue and with the freight carriers as well as with their enforcement agencies, and that I think has been helpful in reducing flows particularly to some of the more challenging parts of the border for us to enforce.

[Senior Administration Official Two], I don’t know if you want to add anything to that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  No, that’s perfect.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  We’ve got time for just one or two more questions, unfortunately.  Can we please go to José Díaz from Reforma newspaper?

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this.  This is a question for [Senior Administration Official Three].  I’ve been asking this question repeatedly and have not gotten any response from the press office at DHS.  I wanted to know the number of nationals of Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela that have been deported to Mexico since the end of Title – since May of 2023.  Do you have them available, sir?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I’m sorry, I don’t have the specific numbers in front of me.  It has been thousands – I’m sorry, I’m hearing a bit of an echo.  It has been thousands of people, but I don’t have the specific number.  I will ask our Office of Public Affairs to follow up.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, and time for just one last question.  That’ll go to Lauren Villagran from USA Today.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thanks, everyone.  Regarding the $4.2 billion that was part of the Root Causes Strategy to Central America, my understanding is that it’s been very difficult to disburse that money because of the lack of reliable partners.  Could you speak to how much of that funding has actually made it to Central America and whether you expect to see an acceleration of investment in Guatemala specifically under the Arévalo government?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Great, thanks for your question.  The $4.2 billion that I referenced is private-sector investment that has been (inaudible) under Vice President Harris’s Central America Forward Initiative.  Separate from that, President Biden committed to seek $4 billion over four years from Congress to invest in the root causes.  Happy to follow up with you on specifics, but I would say a large amount of that has been disbursed, and it’s been disbursed not only to governments but to – in large part to NGOs, to other implementing organizations across the border in all three countries.  And we do expect to accelerate efforts in Guatemala with the Arévalo administration proving to be a great partner on the Root Causes Strategy.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you so much.  That does conclude the time we have for this evening’s call.  Thank you all so much for joining us.  As a reminder, today’s call was on background to senior administration officials, and it is embargoed until noon tomorrow.  Thank you all so much and have a great evening.

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originally published at Politics - JISIP NEWS