By James McCarten in Los Angeles
Leaders from across the Americas, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, signed on Friday to what U.S. President Joe Biden called a “historic commitment” to ease the pressure of northward migration.
The agreement, the central accomplishment of the Summit of the Americas in California, commits Canada to spend $26.9 million this year on slowing the flow of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection also includes a Canadian promise to welcome an additional 4,000 migrants from the region by 2028, as well as a pre-existing plan to bring in 50,000 more agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean.
Canada is already a beacon of hope for migrants from all over the world, Trudeau said during his closing news conference when asked why a G7 country is taking so few new additional newcomers.
Simply bringing more and more people in doesn’t address the underlying issues of economic, social and governmental instability that compel people to pack up and leave in the first place, he said.
“It’s not simply enough to say, ‘We’ll just keep accepting people.’ We need to do that, and we will, because that’s the country we are,” Trudeau said.
“But we also need to be making deliberate, targeted efforts to make sure people don’t feel compelled, that the only choice they have is to put themselves and their families at tremendous risk in order to leave their communities in their country.”
To that end, the government announced an additional $118 million for progressive initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people where they already live in Latin America and the Caribbean.
That includes $67.9 million to promote gender equality; $31.5 million in health and pandemic response spending; $17.3 million on democratic governance and $1.6 million for digital access and anti-disinformation measures.
“Each of us is signing up for commitments and recognizing the challenges that we all share, and the responsibilities that impact all of our nations,” Biden said earlier in the day, the 19 other leaders at the summit standing on the stage behind him.
He blamed the growing migratory pressure on the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by the war in Ukraine and what he called the “turmoil” wrought by autocracies in the region.
Colombia, he said, is hosting millions of refugees from Venezuela, while as much as 10 per cent of Costa Rica’s population consists of migrants — a problem he said demands a collective approach for the sake of the hemisphere’s health and well-being.
“Our security is linked in ways that I don’t think most people in my country fully understand, and maybe not in your country as well,” Biden said.
“Our common humanity demands that we care for our neighbours by working together.”
The $26.9 million portion of Canada’s commitment will go toward improving integration and border management, protecting the rights of migrants, gender equality measures and tackling human smuggling.
The L.A. declaration is based on four key pillars, Biden said: stability and assistance for communities, wider legal migratory routes, humane migration management and co-ordinated emergency response.
The White House said it seeks “to mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas.”
It includes commitments from an array of Latin American and Caribbean nations on everything from economic stabilization and humanitarian relief to “regularizing” migrants living illegally in host countries.
Colombia, for instance, has already regularized 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and has agreed to do the same for 1.5 million more by the end of the summer.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. is doing the heaviest lifting, including US$25 million to support countries that are implementing new regularization programs, $314 million for stabilization efforts and a $65-million pilot project to support agricultural workers.
The Biden administration is also committing to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Americas over the next two years, three times the current resettlement rate, the White House said.
At the same time as the funding and resettlement efforts, the U.S. plans to crack down on human smuggling operations, including a new campaign that’s “unprecedented in scale” aimed at disrupting and dismantling criminal smuggling enterprises in Latin America.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau sat down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who welcomed him warmly as he met with the summit’s congressional delegation.
“We can no longer sort of imagine we’re islands, or isolated from what’s going on in the rest of the world — the pandemic taught us that, climate change is teaching us that,” Trudeau said.
“All of us have a responsibility for each of us.”
As Friday was winding down, Trudeau also sat down for separate bilateral meetings with Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Luis Abinader, prime minister of the Dominican Republic.
But not all his summit meetings were with small island nations or Latin American allies: on Thursday, he spent an hour with Biden, who accepted an invitation to visit Canada in the “coming months.”
He said Canada is in “full discussions” with the U.S. about Biden’s new “Partnership for Economic Prosperity,” a trade framework for the Americas, and that the two leaders discussed a number of sore spots in the Canada-U.S. relationship, including irritants like softwood lumber.
But they also talked about the potential to work more closely together on securing reliable supplies of critical minerals and rare-earth elements, key ingredients in electronics and electric vehicles.
“The world is highly reliant on a few countries that aren’t necessarily aligned with the values of North America or others,” he said.
“Canada developing supply lines for lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, rare-earth elements — these are the kinds of things that demonstrate how partnerships between friends and allies for building a better future is so important.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2022.
Feature image – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a closing press conference following the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, Calif., on Friday, June 10, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.