President Biden hosted officials from 11 countries in the Western Hemisphere on Friday in a meeting aimed at addressing the region’s historic flow of migrants, boosting the economies of Mexico, Ecuador, Panama and other countries.
During the two-hour meeting at the White House, Mr. Biden announced new efforts to work with the Inter-American Development Bank to help countries in the region modernize their digital and physical infrastructure and work with countries to help entrepreneurs to start new businesses in the hemisphere.
He also announced initiatives aimed at supporting supply chains across the region in areas such as clean energy, semiconductors and medical supplies – helping countries in the Americas reduce their dependence on China and other countries around the world.
“In each of our countries our people are young, dynamic and diverse, ready to seize the future,” Mr Biden said at the start of the meeting in the East Room. “I think it really is. All we need to do is to continue, to continue to implement a positive vision that we all share for a region that is safe, prosperous and democratic.”
One goal, according to administration officials, is to help boost the economies of countries across the region so they can better absorb the millions of migrants fleeing poverty, political instability and natural disasters.
Addressing the impact of immigration at the Mexican border has been one of Mr. Biden’s biggest challenges since taking office in early 2021. Record numbers of immigrants have tried to cross into the United States illegally, many from Venezuela and other countries who are struggling.
Republicans have seized on the issue as one of their main attacks on Mr. Biden’s administration. They say the president has failed to be tough enough at the border and have accused the White House of putting US national security at risk by not implementing tougher measures to stop people from entering the country.
But the president’s fight to prevent immigrants from entering has also created division and anger among Democratic officials in states where the cost of caring for immigrants is straining their budgets. Republican governors in Texas and Florida have moved thousands of immigrants to Democratic-led cities to highlight the issue.
On Thursday, Democratic mayors from many of the United States’ largest cities traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge White House officials and lawmakers to do more to allow immigrants to work in the country legally.
“All newcomers arriving in our cities are looking for an opportunity to work, and every day we get calls from business leaders who have job vacancies and want to hire these newcomers,” the mayors wrote to Mr. Biden. “The only barrier to helping them help themselves is federal restrictions on work authorization.”
Last month, Mr. Biden took steps to increase the number of immigrants who can legally work in the United States. But White House officials said Friday’s meeting was an opportunity to work on long-term efforts that could minimize the number of immigrants trying to come to the United States.
Mr. Biden announced the creation of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity during a summit of regional leaders in Los Angeles in the summer of 2022. Members of the Americas Partnership include Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.
White House officials said Mexico and Panama were represented by their foreign ministers on Friday. The leaders of the remaining nine countries were at the White House.
Several of the countries whose top officials attended Friday’s meeting have already taken in many of the migrants fleeing Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti or other troubled economies. A White House official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting before it took place, said Mr. Biden wanted to reward those countries with additional financial aid.
The official said that when other countries accept immigrants from the region, the burden on the United States is reduced. The goal of Friday’s meeting, the official said, is to help those countries do more than that.
“Across the region, entrepreneurs are poised to explode,” Mr. Biden said. “Investors are changing the way we think. Workers are ready to roll up their sleeves. We will ensure they have the skills and resources they need to succeed.”