Briefing with Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Upcoming Migration Ministerial with the Government of Mexico

Briefing with Senior Administration Officials Previewing the Upcoming Migration Ministerial with the Government of Mexico

MODERATOR:  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s background call on tomorrow’s migration ministerial with the Government of Mexico.  This call is on background to senior administration officials and it is embargoed until its conclusion.  For your information only and not for reporting – for reporting, joining us on the call is, from the Department of State, [Senior Administration Official One]; from the Department of Homeland Security, [Senior Administration Official Two]; and from the National Security Council, [Senior Administration Official Three].  We’ll take brief opening remarks from each of our speakers and then we’ll turn it over to your questions.

With that, let’s turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One] to kick us off.  Sir, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you.  Tomorrow, Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas, and White House Homeland Security Advisor Sherwood-Randall will meet with a delegation from Mexico led by Foreign Secretary Alicia Bárcena.  Our countries will discuss how to strengthen cooperation to address migration challenges at our shared border.

We expect a productive conversation that will build on progress made during our meeting in Mexico City on December 27th.  We will concentrate on implementing sustainable solutions that address the root causes of migration, advance the goals of the Los Angeles Declaration for Migration and Protection, and foster humane migration management and enforcement.

Mexico is a close partner and we are grateful for their continued close cooperation across our deep bilateral relationship.  We stand committed to support lawful and humane pathways for migrants throughout the region.  We continue to pursue this goal by working with partner governments, civil society, and international organizations on this comprehensive, long-term effort.

The largest contribution of humanitarian assistance by a single donor in the Western Hemisphere comes from the United States.  In the past three years, the United States provided more than $3.6 billion in humanitarian assistance and nearly 6.1 billion in total development, economic, security, and health assistance across the hemisphere.

In addition to our funding to support safe, orderly, and humane migration, we continue to provide protections to vulnerable migrants.  Our Safe Mobility Offices across the region facilitate expedited refugee processing through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  Safe [Mobility] Offices also provide information and referrals to humanitarian parole, family reunification, and labor programs.

The Safe Mobility initiative is one of the many ways we offer access to lawful migration pathways.  Other pathways for lawful migration include refugee resettlement, humanitarian parole, family reunification, labor pathways, and asylum in host countries, as well as various other support services provided by international organizations and NGOs.  Together, these initiatives represent the largest expansion of lawful pathways to the United States in decades.

Once again, we look forward to a fruitful discussion tomorrow with our Mexican counterparts.  Together, we will identify how to manage regional migration in a humane, safe, and lawful way.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Two].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Thank you, [Senior Administration Official One], and thanks, everybody, for being with us today.  Look, for our part, DHS continues to build on and expand on the model that we have put in place to manage migratory flows since the lifting of the public health emergency – Title 42 – in May of last year.  And this balanced, comprehensive approach to managing migration includes strengthening consequences for individuals who cross our border unlawfully while continuing to expand lawful pathways and processes for those who wish to come to the United States to have options to do so.  We value the partnership with the Department of State on the Safe Mobility Offices and we continue to expand other legal means for people to come to the United States.

Since the lifting of Title 42 in May through the end of 2023, we have removed or returned more noncitizens without a basis to remain in the United States each day than at any time since Fiscal Year 2010.  This includes over 482,000 individuals since May 12th, who have been returned or repatriated, and that includes more than 81,000 individual family unit members.  In fact, through the end of 2023, removals and returns exceed the number of removals and returns each fiscal year from 2015 to 2019, and daily removals and enforcement returns are nearly double what they were compared to our pre-pandemic average from 2014 to 2019.

We understand that there continue to be more people displaced around the world today than at any other point since World War II, and that includes record numbers of individuals displaced within our own hemisphere.  This is a challenge for us and it’s also a challenge for our Mexican counterparts, and we look forward to continuing our robust conversations with them on how we can work together to address what isn’t just an American challenge or a Mexican challenge but truly a regional challenge.

As part of our own efforts, we have significantly expanded our ability to impose consequences on migrants at our border.  That includes, as I think everyone is aware, regulatory changes we have made to put what we believe are some common-sense conditions on asylum eligibility at our border.  It includes a historic expansion of expedited removal processing for individuals who cross unlawfully, and it includes our continuing efforts to increase our ability to repatriate individuals who do not establish a legal basis to remain in the United States to a diverse array of countries that include Venezuela, India, Mauritania, Senegal, and many others around the world.

We want to commend the Government of Mexico for its efforts in this arena.  They, like the United States, have recently announced their beginning of repatriation flights to Venezuela, and we also continue to work with them on expanding legal avenues for people to come to the United States that I think [Senior Administration Official Three] will touch on in a little bit.

Lastly, I want to recognize and highlight that we are committed to playing our part in fostering cross-border trade and travel and that we, thanks to the tireless work of the men and women on the front lines who have been making enormous sacrifices to keep our country secure and manage migratory flows at our border, recently were able to announce the reopening of all of the ports of entry that had been temporarily closed in December due to what had been an increase in encounters in that month, and we want to again thank the Government of Mexico for its efforts to ensure that individuals are not boarding freight trains in Mexico or otherwise circumventing enforcement activities that they are taking.

With that, I will stop there and turn it over to [Senior Administration Official Three].  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Over to [Senior Administration Official Three], please.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Great, thanks.  Good evening, everyone.  Just to underscore what my colleagues said, our partnership with Mexico spans far beyond migration, but on migration we are incredibly grateful for just the level of cooperation, transparency, and dialogue that we’ve established.  I was a part of the visit down to Mexico City on the 27th.  We’re very eager to be able to reconnect with them tomorrow.

We speak frequently with our Mexican counterparts at all levels really on a daily basis.  And as you know, President López Obrador and President Biden have established a really strong partnership and friendship, and they speak frequently as well.  And when they speak, they always discuss the challenge of migration, which both of our countries view as something that is not only about managing it here at our shared border but really a hemispheric-wide challenge.

And that’s why President Biden mobilized 21 leaders across the Western Hemisphere in 2022 to sign onto a new migration pact, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, which is the bedrock of our foreign policy on migration management in the Western Hemisphere.  It’s premised on the idea of responsibility sharing, and it focuses on what more we can do to support the countries in the region that have been most impacted by migration under Pillar I, Stabilization, drawing more economic support to lift up the countries that are hosting the largest numbers of migrants and refugees.  I think a really important example of this is when President Biden mobilized leaders here in Washington on November 3rd for the Americas Partnership on Economic Prosperity, finding new tools, economic tools and vehicles to draw financing to countries that have – that are hosting the largest refugee and migrant populations.

We are also working hand-in-glove with our partners, Mexico included but not exclusive to Mexico, on the expansion of legal pathways.  I think one of the important things about the Safe Mobility Offices that my colleagues mentioned is that it’s not something that the U.S. launched alone.  We launched it alongside Canada, Spain, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, and most recently Ecuador.  So the whole idea here is that we work together, that we can do – we could have more of an impact when we join forces to manage migration and doing it humanely.

Pillar 3 is focused on humane border management, so that’s why it’s very important to us that as we resume repatriation flights to Venezuela we’re doing that alongside Mexico, and we encourage other countries to join us.  We also applaud the steps that Mexico has taken, Panama, other countries, to restrict irregular migration and visa – impose new visa controls.

So we look forward to the discussion tomorrow.  As it always is with the Mexicans, we will focus on how it’s working operationally between our two governments, what’s working, how we can adjust, because this is – these flows are dynamic.  But we will always also talk about how we can join forces and work together to address the challenge in the region, focused on the new openings in Guatemala, the situation in the Darién Gap, the challenge of the criminal networks of smugglers that are exploiting migrants.

So again, we really look forward to the discussion tomorrow.  There will be many more of these over the course of the year.  Thank you.

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

OPERATOR:  And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad.  You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command.  If using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers.  Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.  One moment, please, for the first question.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Can we please go to the line of Camilo Montoya from CBS News?

QUESTION:  Hi, folks.  So since December, the number of people crossing the border illegally has plummeted, as you know.  Do you believe the main catalyst for that is increased Mexican enforcement following that Mexico City meeting after Christmas?  And if so, how are you ensuring that Mexico sustains that enforcement, because that has always historically been an issue?

And then my other question is some of the talks in the Senate over changing asylum and border policy implicate Mexico in the sense that they would have to accept some more people back from the U.S.  Are you consulting with the Mexicans on changing – potential changes, rather, to U.S. immigration law?  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Hey, Camilo.  Thanks for those questions.  I can start off and maybe others can jump in.  In terms of the decrease in encounters at the border, this is the time of year when we typically do see decreased encounter levels historically, but we also believe that the actions taken by the Mexican Government are having an impact as well, and I think we will just, as we always do, have to continue to monitor things day by day and identify trends in order to respond.  These conversations we’re having tomorrow are part of our continuing efforts, as [Senior Administration Official Three] said, to make sure that we are very coordinated and in sync with the Government of Mexico on these issues.

We can’t really comment on the negotiations taking place in the Senate other than to say that we are encouraged to hear that progress is being made and that we continue to call on the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to work in a bipartisan way to solve some of these issues with our immigration and asylum system that date back decades and that are contributing to the challenges that we have been facing on our border.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to the line of Nick Miross from The Washington Post?

QUESTION:  Hey, thanks for doing the call, guys.  I wanted to nail this down.  Has Mexico asked for financial or operational assistance since the meeting in December with – specifically with removal flights?  And are we willing to provide that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I’m happy to take that, Nick.  No, they have not made requests for financial support.  It’s something that we coordinate closely operationally, but they have tapped into their own federal budget for all of their enforcement-related initiatives.

QUESTION:  Including flights?

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to the line of Javier Vega from Telemundo?

QUESTION:  Thank you, good evening.  Two quick questions, and thank you for doing this.  First question:  Do you expect any concrete announcements after tomorrow’s meeting?

And the second question is if the return of the “Remain in Mexico” policy is on the table.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I can take that, unless you’d like to, [Senior Administration Official One].


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Great.  I – we don’t expect any big announcements tomorrow.  We’ll see how the meeting goes.  But this is really viewed – even though it’s at the cabinet level and we’ll have our senior people and they’ll have their senior people, this really will be a working meeting, a taking stock of the efforts that we’ve been undertaking since December 27th – again, as I mentioned before, looking at what’s working, looking at where we need to adjust.  And so this is going to be much more about really focusing on the work in front of us, and it’s only been – I think it’s – I counted it today.  I think it’s been 22 days since we last met, so in terms of big deliverables we don’t have anything really big to report.

And nothing to say on your second question.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we go to —

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  I would just say – I’m sorry, on —

MODERATOR:  I’m sorry, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  On the MPP question, I would just note that this administration has fought the court order to re-implement MPP all the way to the Supreme Court, and we remain committed to fighting that case as it continues through the court system.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Jose Diaz from Reforma?

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for doing this.  I have a question regarding what some analysts say.  They argue that President AMLO is using migration enforcement as a political tool vis-à-vis the U.S. Government.  According to these analysts, the president of Mexico is only willing to stop migrant flows if the Biden administration remains silent on human rights and democracy issues inside Mexico.  Is there truth in this?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  No.  The relationship we have with Mexico is extremely broad and deep.  We talk about a wide variety of issues.  And we have clear, frank exchanges on issues where we disagree, and we talk about those privately, but we also talk about them publicly, and you can certainly look at the record of what we’ve said over the course of the last few years to corroborate that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Julia Ainsley from NBC News?

QUESTION:  Hi, yes.  Two questions, if I can.  The first is a big thing you used to talk to Mexico about all the time was fentanyl and their concern about arms trafficking.  Have those conversations taken a back burner while immigration is clearly at the front of what you’re talking about?  It’s the same kind of people, like Liz Sherwood-Randall, who used to talk about fentanyl with them.

And then second, are they raising concerns about what they’re hearing on the Hill?  If there’s new policies to raise the bar on asylum, that could really affect Mexico if more people are pushed back.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  I would just note that our conversations with Mexico, again, are extremely broad.  Fentanyl is a enormous priority for both governments.  We talk about how we can do more to combat fentanyl, the importation of chemical precursors into Mexico, the dismantling of clandestine labs, the dismantling of illicit financial networks, and cooperation with third countries around the world to ensure that this is not just a bilateral issue but a global effort to address the challenge of synthetic drugs broadly and fentanyl specifically.  And I must say this is one of the most vibrant areas of our cooperation, and it will continue.

With regard to legislative issues, I’m not in a position to address any sort of legislative points.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Can we please go to Hamed Aleaziz from The New York Times?

QUESTION:  Hi.  I was just hoping to get some more details on specifically what Mexico has done since the meeting in late December and any more details on those Venezuela flights that Mexico is conducting.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  Hey, Hamed.  I think we would have to defer to Mexico to speak to specifics about their operations, but as you referenced, they issued a public statement about their Venezuela flights.  We understand that they’ve conducted a handful of flights since they’ve made that announcement.  And just to say both of our countries have been focused in recent weeks on the importance of increasing enforcement on trains, on bus routes, and so we’ve been pleased to see real – real marked progress there in terms of increased enforcement that’s having a real impact.  And so – but again, we’ll defer to Mexico to speak to more specificity about their programs.

MODERATOR:  Thanks so much.  Let’s go to Eric Martin from Bloomberg.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you so much for doing this call.  I wanted to ask following up on the point about Safe Mobility Offices.  It’s something that I’ve spoken about with Foreign Secretary Bárcena in September, at which time she said that Mexico was considering putting such an office in its southern territory and talking with the U.S. and UN about that.  My understanding is that that was then – that was discarded by the Mexican Government in part because of pushback from governors in southern states where it would have been located worried about pull factors that would draw people to their states, and at that time in September it was 40,000 people from the four parole-eligible countries awaiting parole for the U.S.  I was wondering if you could update us on whether that’s indeed the case, whether that’s – whether a Safe Mobility Office has been ruled out as a possibility for Mexico at least on a temporary basis, and if you have a count on how many people in southern Mexico are still kind of in limbo since the end of Title 42 awaiting their parole processes.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, maybe I’ll start and just note that Safe Mobility Offices really represent a historic expansion of legal pathways for migration, whether it’s refugee processing or family reunification or the use of the novel parole programs for Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians that this administration has created.

The breadth of those efforts that have already begun in places like Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala are quite extensive, and the uptake in the ability to process migrants through those channels I think is moving ahead at an impressive rate.  But I don’t really see that expanding the number of offices would increase the throughput of migrants at this time.  I think that the ability to process people expeditiously is crucial to ensure that this process is effective in dissuading people from pursuing irregular migration.

MODERATOR:  Great, thank you so much.  Our next question will go to Rafael Bernal from The Hill.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  Thank you for having this.  I want to follow up on Pepe’s question a little bit.  Mexican opposition groups and a lot of observers here have put up dire and pretty stark warnings about democratic decline, I believe was the draft language, in Mexico.  Is there a red line where Mexico’s electoral process this year intersects with the need for immigration enforcement?  Like, is there a – is there something that – a red line where the United States has to pull back if X or Y or Z happens?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  So I’d note that Mexico remains a vibrant democracy.  The election this year will encompass the largest number of offices and voters in Mexico’s history.  The election, we expect, will be campaigned vigorously and that public authorities will administer their duties faithfully and transparently.  We talk about the values of democracy, respect for the rule of law, and human rights with all our partners around the world, and particularly in the Western Hemisphere.  When we have concerns, we raise those privately and sometimes publicly, and we’ll continue to do so.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  And our final question for the evening will go to Andrés Fidanza from La Política Online.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you very much.  Do you think that Mexico could apply more effective controls on their border on migration to avoid the pressure of the – in the southern border in the States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE:  I can take that.  I would say that we’re really grateful for Mexico’s partnership in terms of really the balanced approach, as we’ve mentioned before.  Mexico is investing in root causes.  This is really incredible.  They’re one of the only other countries that’s joined us from the Western Hemisphere in really investing in root causes.  They’re expanding legal pathways to Mexico.  And they are doing meaningful enforcement alongside us.  So we’re grateful.  And for every country that is grappling with the migration challenge, it strains our resources.  It’s – and so we understand that over 2 million migrants entered Mexico last year.  So they have been impacted greatly by this hemispheric challenge, and despite that they’ve really been stepping up and doing far more than I think they’ve ever done before on enforcement.

So we’re – just to say that we really appreciate the partnership and look forward to discussing it in greater detail tomorrow.  Thanks.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  That does conclude our call for this evening.  As a reminder, tonight’s call was on background to senior administration officials, and the embargo has now lifted.  Thank you all and have a good night.

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