As the U.S. Border Is Overwhelmed, Mayorkas, Blinken Address 'Root Causes' -- in Panama

Susan Jones | April 21, 2022 | 4:56am EDT
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Human smugglers pull illegal immigrants into the United States in Roma, Texas on July 8, 2021. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
Human smugglers pull illegal immigrants into the United States in Roma, Texas on July 8, 2021. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

( - At a news conference in Panama on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas discussed "a challenge that affects all 22 countries represented here, managing migration in our hemisphere," Blinken said.

"Here in Panama, we talked about some of the most urgent aspects of this issue, including helping stabilize and strengthen communities that are hosting migrants and refugees; creating more legal pathways to reinforce safe, orderly, and humane migration; dealing with the root causes of irregular migration by growing economic opportunity, fighting corruption, increasing citizen security, combating the climate crisis, improving democratic governance that's responsive to people's needs," Blinken said.

He noted that Panama and the United States signed an agreement to "increase our bilateral cooperation across all of these issues." He said it is the second such agreement -- "The first was with Costa Rica," Blinken said.

"We hope to announce more in the coming weeks and months. This is how we deepen our coordination and this is how we make more progress in helping vulnerable people support communities and protect the security of our borders."

DHS Secretary Mayorkas said the "critical first step" in controlling illegal migration "is to address the root causes of why individuals flee their homes, leave their countries of origin for lands that are unfamiliar to them."

The second step, he said, is "to build legal, orderly, and humane pathways, so individuals do not need to place their lives, their well-being, well-beings of their loved ones in the hands of smugglers and traffickers who only seek to exploit them for profit.

"Third is to develop humanitarian programs for individuals already resident in the countries other than those of their origin so that we can settle them in a stable and prosperous manner, address their needs, present them with the opportunities of a stable life in their new homes.

"Lastly, of course, in the United States, we have significant humanitarian programs, the asylum program. But we also take pride in being not only a nation of immigrants but a nation of laws. Those who qualify for relief under our nation's laws will be provided a home in the United States and an ability to resettle in the -- these states."

"Those who do not qualify will be repatriated to their countries of origin and so -- to give integrity to our system and to stand as a -- as a nation of laws, as well as a nation of relief."

Blinken said addressing the "root causes" of illegal immigration is "not like flipping a light switch."

"So, we have to be able to deal with the short-term challenge even as we address the long-term drivers, which is the only sustainable way to get at this. And all of that comes together in enhanced coordination, cooperation, shared responsibility."

A lot of words and portentous phrases were uttered at the news conference, but nothing was said about closing the border and letting the word "closed" filter back to would-be migrants -- something that worked, as the numbers indicate, when President Trump implemented the remain in Mexico policy in January 2019.

The numbers for 2020 show the Remain in Mexico policy worked. (Graph from CBP website)
The numbers for 2020 show the Remain in Mexico policy worked. (Graph from CBP website)

Here, for example, is Blinken's response to a question about tackling "the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle."

"First, what we are experiencing in our own hemisphere is -- is multifaceted. And of course, there are challenges that are clear in the so-called Northern Triangle countries in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, but also Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba. And then people now coming into our hemisphere from beyond, who are also on a migratory path, including coming to the United States.

"So we're looking at this comprehensively and looking at what we can do together to meet the challenge wherever it comes from. With regard to the Northern Triangle countries, we're working with each of them in different ways to address both short-term challenges but also these long-term drivers. I would note that Vice President Harris, among other things, led a very significant call to action from the private sector to make new investments in the Northern Triangle countries.

"And since that call to action, I think we've seen something like $1.2 billion in additional investment that over time as it takes root will create new opportunities for people and help take away some of what's driving them to leave, which is the lack of economic opportunity. But it has to be comprehensive, economic opportunity, governance, combating corruption, dealing with insecurity.

"All of these things are vital. But I think it's also fair to say that none of the countries in question of course can do this alone. The demands are extraordinary. So, this is where all of us can come into play, but it's also where the international financial institutions, as well as international organizations come into play. And bringing all of that together with the goodwill and intentions of the governments in question, I think we can make a real difference."

Mayorkas was asked about the influx of Cubans at the U.S.-Mexico border and migration talks planned with Cuba this week:

"I don't want to get ahead of the -- the dialog between the United States and Cuba, but as everyone knows, we have had migration accords with the country of Cuba for many, many years. Those were discontinued, and we will explore the possibility of resuming that.

"And that is a reflection of our commitment to legal, orderly, and humane pathways so individuals, including Cubans, do not take, for example, to the seas, which is an extraordinarily perilous journey."

Mayorkas also said the Department of Homeland Security is "planning accordingly" for when the BIden administration lifts Title 42, the public health measure, on May 23. Title 42 is not an immigration policy, but it has served to keep at least some illegal migrants out of the U.S.

As the transcript shows, the words "stay home," "turn around" and "don't come" were never spoken by any of the participants in Wednesday’s press briefing.

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