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US seeks way forward on migration at close of contested summit

LOS ANGELES, June 10 — The United States today promised to do more to manage migration and looked for consensus around the Americas as it wound down a summit in Los Angeles that has been beset from the start by disputes.

The leaders of Mexico, which shares a 3,145-kilometre (1,954-mile) border with the United States, and of three Central American nations that have seen a spike in people fleeing declined to attend the week-long Summit of the Americas.

But lower-level officials attended, and President Joe Biden insisted that he largely saw common purpose on migration — a heated political issue at home.

US officials said that the summit would produce the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection that will formalise many of the arrangements already in place.

The countries will agree to reinforce systems to process claims for asylum on their soil and also to share costs with nations that have been on the frontlines of taking in migrants, officials said.

"Each one of our countries has been impacted by unprecedented migration, and I believe it's our shared responsibility to meet this challenge," US President Joe Biden told the summit yesterday.

Countries across the Americas will seek to boost "safe and orderly migration" and to "coordinate specific, concrete actions to secure our borders," Biden said.

Extreme poverty, rising violence and natural disasters worsened by climate change have triggered to a sharp rise in Central Americans and Haitians seeking to enter the United States.

Former president Donald Trump's Republican Party has seized on the issue ahead of congressional elections, denouncing migrants from developing countries and accusing Biden of failing to act effectively.

In announcement timed for the summit, the State Department said the United States would resettle 20,000 verified refugees from the Americas over the next two years — a three-fold increase but a far cry from the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees that Biden, mostly with Republican support, has pledged to take in.

The United States also announced US$317 million in new funding to support some of the more than six million Venezuelans who have fled their country, whose economy has been in freefall.

Friction over invitations

The Summit of the Americas was hit by discord even before it began, as Biden refused to invite the leftist leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela on the grounds that they are authoritarians.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador boycotted the summit to protest the exclusions, and leaders criticized the decision to Biden's face in a plenary session on Thursday.

"Being the host country of the summit doesn't grant the ability to impose a right of admission on member countries of the continent," said Argentina's center-left president, Alberto Fernandez, who attended after a personal appeal by Biden.

The prime minister of tiny Belize directly criticised Biden on Cuba and Venezuela and pointedly asked him if he will follow lofty up on lofty promises, pointing to the $40 billion package from the United States to support Ukraine in its war.

"We know that money is not the problem," Prime Minister John Briceno told him.

Biden, who applauded politely and greeted each leader, returned to the podium to say that his agenda was on track.

"Notwithstanding some of the disagreements relating to participation, on the substantive matters, what I heard was almost unity and uniformity," the US president said.

Biden called the summit in the face of rising Chinese influence in a region that the United States has long considered its home turf.

But the Biden administration has steered clear of big-dollar announcements and instead focused on broad declarations and pledged to work out specifics later.

The administration promised earlier in the summit to help train 500,000 health workers in the Americas and unveiled US$1.9 billion in private funding for Central America to create jobs and stem some of the factors motivating migration.

Biden also met at the summit with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a first encounter with a far-right leader who has questioned not only the legitimacy of upcoming elections at home but also of the US polls in which Biden defeated Trump.

Bolsonaro, who was one of Trump's closest international allies, is trailing in polls ahead of October elections.

But he said that he was pleasantly surprised by his meeting Thursday with Biden and looked forward to further talks. — AFP