The United States has the highest number of illegal immigrants: an indisputable fact. So, one would wonder why Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador hosted leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean nations to hash out a plan to handle the influx of illegal immigration. ¿Dónde está el presidente Joe?
Lopez Obrador welcomed Presidents Nicolas Maduro from Venezuela, Miguel Diaz-Canel from Cuba, Xiomara Castro of Honduras, Guillermo Lasso of Ecuador, Gustavo Petro of Colombia, Alejandro Giamattei of Guatemala and Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti to Palenque. The city is in Chiapas, the southernmost state in Mexico, sharing a border with Guatemala, and is considered the gateway for South and Central American and Caribbean migrants heading toward the United States.
Lopez Obrador said on X that as the summit kicked off, he wanted to “combine efforts, will, and resources to tackle the causes of the migratory phenomenon.”
It appeared odd to many observers that the one major player who should be involved in such an immigration-focused summit would be absent. No Joe Biden. No Vice President Harris. Not even Linked-In, Blinken, or Nod.
The White House did release a statement that Biden will host his own summit on Nov. 3 with leaders from South American nations.
Immigration by the Numbers
So far in 2023, 1.7 million immigrants have arrived at the Mexico-US border. After the immigration summit in Mexico, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) posted these numbers on Oct. 23:
“Over the weekend, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) released new data showing that fiscal year 2023 now marks the highest level of illegal immigration in US history. Over the past twelve months, CBP has encountered a stunning 3.2 million illegal aliens at our borders — more than all four years of the Trump Administration combined. The FY 2023 total represents a 16 percent increase over FY 2022 (2.76 million) and a 63 percent increase over FY 2021 (1.96 million).”
Other notable crossers include Chinese nationals. The FY 2023 report released by CBP continued, “A total of 52,000 Chinese were caught by CBP in FY 2023. Nearly half of those, 24,000, were encountered by the Border Patrol trying to sneak through between ports of entry at the southern border.” And for the first time ever, Venezuelan hopefuls exceeded Mexican citizens seeking a new place to call home. Add in a growing concern with the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel, and the number of suspected terrorists also has risen this year. The dangerous people on this list encountered Border Patrol agents 172 times in FY 2023. That number included 169 at the southern border and three trying to sneak in through the northern border.
It would seem to most Americans that Biden should have demanded a seat at the López Obrador table.
2024 Election Puffery
Anyone with a calendar realizes that Biden will have to worry about immigration heading into an election year. López Obrador finds himself in the same pickle, and his tightrope spans a deep gorge of doubt in solidarity with other Latin countries. Stephanie Brewer, the Mexico director for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), believes Mexico is taking the lead on the issue, pushing the American efforts aside. The summit “reflects the Mexican government’s desire to project an image of being aligned with Latin American countries, to show a network of solidarity among Latin American and Caribbean countries, rather than just responding to the interests of the United States,” she said.
Brewer also surmises that Obrador is just attempting to appease everyone with whatever tactic seems suited for the moment. He will agree with the US policy and then sling strong rebukes over team play: “Lopez Obrador seeks to publicly appear to be pushing back and has a different proposal. Yet that is quite contradictory to how he has repeatedly responded to US policy requests,” she said.
Americans aren’t fooled by Biden’s late-in-the-game play on the status of the southern border. It’s a big year, and the man who opened the door — ordering razor wire fences cut and iPhone apps for a swift approval process — has a public relations nightmare on his hands when presidential primaries kick off in four short months. Seriously. ¿Dónde está el presidente Joe?