(CNN) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that the immigration challenges facing the Joe Biden administration along the southern border are “beyond anything anyone has ever seen before.” Blinken assured that the issue will be a key focus of the Summit of the Americas that brings together regional leaders in Los Angeles.
“We are dealing with a challenge that, for a wide variety of reasons, is beyond anything that anyone has seen before, which is why the approach that we are taking, including here at the Summit, is so important,” he told Blinken to Juan Carlos López, from CNN en Español, during an interview conducted on Tuesday at the Summit of the Americas, in Los Angeles.
“And that is a shared responsibility approach where everyone in the hemisphere who is affected by irregular migration in particular, migration in general, that is, the countries of origin, the countries of transit, the countries of destination, come together to take a shared responsibility for managing this in a safe, humane and orderly way,” Blinken continued.
The secretary of state added that the US is working with countries at the summit to try to come up with “specific actions” they can take to address the problem, and referenced a new migration document, called the Los Angeles Declaration. , which the United States and other countries are expected to sign this week. Its objective is to explain how countries in the region and around the world must share the responsibility of welcoming migrants.
In particular, the leaders of several countries that are crucial to addressing migration, including Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, are boycotting the summit, dealing an embarrassing blow to the Biden administration as it struggles to manage the situation.
Illegal immigration, a key issue at the summit
Immigration has been a top priority for the Biden administration, with Vice President Kamala Harris charged with addressing the root causes of migration to the southern border of the United States. As the 23 heads of state gathered in California for the event, the issue came to the fore when a new migrant caravan in southern Mexico set out on foot, timed to draw attention to the issue.
An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said a group of some 2,300 people left the southern Mexican city of Tapachula on Monday for the north. The official said the group is mostly made up of Venezuelans, but also includes migrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, El Salvador and Honduras.
The autocratic leaders of three of those countries — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — were not invited to the summit, prompting a boycott by Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries, a move that distracted from the event’s broader goals. But Blinken insisted in his CNN interview that those countries are represented at the summit when asked about his absence.
“I can also tell you that Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua are here. I saw them, I met them. I met with civil society leaders and activists from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” she said. “There will be people from [organizaciones no gubernamentales] from different parts of those societies that are so representative, and, frankly, more representative in my opinion, of the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan people than the regimes that are in place right now.
Blinken also responded to questions about whether US influence in the region was waning as China and Russia increased their presence there, saying, “I think, on the contrary… When you see the conclusions that emerge from this, when you see the concrete actions, the commitments, the principles that the countries of the hemisphere are signing, I think it reflects an agenda, a common agenda, that tries to respond to the needs of our people”.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield similarly weighed in on that point Wednesday, telling a US House subcommittee that this week’s summit “is a start to renew our momentum with our partners in Latin America.
“I will tell you that in New York I hear from Caribbean and Latin American colleagues every day. They don’t want to partner with China. But a lot of them feel they have no choice but to partner with China because we haven’t been there for them,” he said, adding that the United States needs to “increase our engagement with these countries.”
Department of Homeland Security will send migrants to some US cities farther from the US-Mexico border
As regional leaders in Los Angeles discuss ways to address immigration, officials in Washington are also working on the issue, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) planning to send migrants to some cities in Farthest from the US-Mexico border, based on NGO capacity, according to a DHS official.
The Biden administration is still dealing with an influx of immigrants at the southern US border despite keeping a Trump-era pandemic restriction known as Title 42 in place. As part of ongoing planning to deal with a large volume of migrants, DHS has focused on more efficiently processing immigrants who are released while going through their immigration proceedings.
The latest plan, first reported by NBC, would send undocumented immigrants to Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Albuquerque, according to the official, and help relieve border shelters that have been overwhelmed.
A DHS spokesperson told CNN, “No decision has been made. If a decision is made, DHS will continue to closely coordinate with and support cities and NGOs to facilitate the movement of anyone found at the southwest border.” and that he be in removal proceedings pending the next steps in his immigration proceedings.”
Currently, NGOs along the US-Mexico border assist migrants who are released from government custody. Migrants often then travel to their final destination in the US, where they may have relatives and continue their immigration procedures.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in a rebuke to Biden’s immigration policies, began sending dozens of immigrants detained at the US-Mexico border and released to Washington. After arriving in Washington, the immigrants have similarly continued to other destinations in the United States.
— CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.