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Biden and López Obrador are set to meet, with fentanyl, migrants and Cuba on the U.S.-Mexico agenda

by Ryan Lee
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US-Mexico Relations

President Joe Biden and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, despite their occasional personal differences, are scheduled to engage in discussions concerning migration, fentanyl trafficking, and Cuba relations during their meeting. The two leaders are currently in San Francisco for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference, where President Biden has been conducting face-to-face meetings with various world leaders, including China’s President Xi Jinping, Japan’s leadership, and South Korea’s leaders. This diplomatic effort is aimed at conveying the message that the U.S. and China are competitors rather than zero-sum adversaries.

It is worth noting that the relationship between President Biden and López Obrador has experienced periods of tension. This is in part due to Biden’s willingness to criticize Mexico, particularly regarding issues such as fentanyl production and the safety of journalists. López Obrador, on the other hand, has not hesitated to distance himself from the U.S. leader. He notably skipped a Los Angeles summit last year because it did not include Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela in the discussions on migration. Initially, he had also considered skipping this year’s APEC conference but later reversed his decision.

During their meeting, López Obrador intends to advocate for Cuba and urge President Biden to resume dialogue with the island nation while ending U.S. sanctions. President Biden, on the other hand, is expected to address the pressing issue of migration, given the ongoing challenges at the southern border. Additionally, the leaders will discuss the critical problem of deadly fentanyl trafficking, especially following Biden’s recent agreement with President Xi to combat the illicit opioid trade.

It is important to note the interconnectedness of these issues. Human smuggling across the border is intricately linked to cartel activities, which include drug trafficking into the United States. Mexico and China are the primary sources of synthetic fentanyl trafficked into the U.S., with the precursor chemicals largely originating from China. These drugs are then mass-produced in Mexico and trafficked into the U.S. through cartel networks.

Fentanyl is currently the most lethal drug in the United States, with over 100,000 annual deaths linked to drug overdoses since 2020, with approximately two-thirds attributed to fentanyl. The death toll is more than ten times higher than in 1988, during the height of the crack epidemic.

Furthermore, the challenges related to migration facing the U.S. are becoming increasingly complex. Democratic leaders at the state and local levels are requesting federal assistance to care for migrant families living in substandard conditions, while Republicans are critical of what they perceive as lax border policies under the Biden administration. It’s notable that Congress has not passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill in decades.

President Biden sought $14 billion from Congress for border security, but the temporary spending bill he signed did not include funding for border security, Ukraine aid, or Israel.

The number of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is on the rise, with a 21% increase in arrests for illegal crossings in September, totaling 218,763. President Biden has consistently called on Congress to address outdated immigration laws. In the meantime, his administration has implemented policies aimed at deterring migrants from undertaking perilous journeys while simultaneously establishing new legal immigration pathways.

Mexico’s cooperation is crucial for any U.S. efforts to address border issues, particularly as migrants from distant countries like Haiti are making their way through Mexico, making their return to their home countries challenging. Earlier this year, Mexico agreed to accept migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua who are turned away at the border. Additionally, up to 100,000 individuals from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador with family in the U.S. will be eligible to live and work in the U.S.

Asylum-seekers from Haiti have remained prominent, with 18,860 arrivals so far this year, surpassing the total for all of 2022. Meanwhile, the U.S. is accepting 30,000 people per month from these four countries for a two-year period, providing them with legal work opportunities, contingent on legal entry, eligible sponsors, and successful vetting and background checks. Guatemala and Colombia are establishing regional hubs for asylum claims, but Mexico has thus far declined to permit the U.S. to establish one within its territory.

This complex and multifaceted set of issues underscores the significance of the discussions between President Biden and President López Obrador, as both leaders seek to address critical challenges facing their countries and the broader region.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about US-Mexico Relations

What were the main topics of discussion between President Biden and President López Obrador at the APEC conference?

President Biden and President López Obrador discussed migration, fentanyl trafficking, and Cuba relations during their meeting at the APEC conference. These topics were central to their diplomatic discussions.

Why is the relationship between Biden and López Obrador occasionally tense?

Tensions between President Biden and President López Obrador arise from various factors, including Biden’s criticism of Mexico on issues like fentanyl production and the safety of journalists. Additionally, López Obrador has, at times, distanced himself from the U.S. leader, such as skipping a summit last year over the omission of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

How are migration challenges related to fentanyl trafficking?

Migration and fentanyl trafficking are interconnected because human smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border is often a part of cartel operations that also include drug trafficking into the U.S. Mexico and China are primary sources of synthetic fentanyl trafficked into the U.S., with precursor chemicals coming from China and drugs mass-produced in Mexico.

What is the significance of fentanyl trafficking in the United States?

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the U.S., with over 100,000 annual deaths linked to drug overdoses since 2020, and approximately two-thirds of these are related to fentanyl. This death toll is significantly higher than in 1988, during the height of the crack epidemic.

What challenges is the U.S. facing at its southern border?

The U.S. faces growing challenges at its southern border, with a 21% increase in arrests for illegal crossings in September. These challenges have led to calls for federal assistance from Democratic leaders and criticism from Republicans over border policies. Additionally, Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform in decades.

What role does Mexico play in addressing U.S. border issues?

Mexico’s cooperation is crucial for U.S. efforts to address border challenges, especially as migrants from countries like Haiti travel through Mexico. Mexico has agreed to accept migrants turned away at the U.S. border, and individuals from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador with U.S. family ties are eligible to live and work in the U.S.

How does the U.S. plan to address migration issues?

The U.S. is implementing policies to deter migrants from undertaking dangerous journeys while establishing new legal immigration pathways. Additionally, it has agreed to accept 30,000 people per month from specific countries for two years, providing legal work opportunities with proper vetting and checks. Guatemala and Colombia are also creating regional hubs for asylum claims.

Why is the dialogue with Cuba a topic of discussion?

President López Obrador expressed the intention to urge President Biden to resume dialogue with Cuba and end U.S. sanctions during their meeting. This reflects ongoing diplomatic efforts and regional concerns regarding relations with Cuba.

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