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US, Mexico to Hold Cabinet-Level Migration Talks in DC on Friday

(Bloomberg) -- Biden administration cabinet officials will host their Mexican counterparts Friday in Washington for meetings focused on reducing the record number of migrants crossing the southern US border.

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Mexican Foreign Minister Alicia Barcena will lead the visiting delegation, along with the defense minister and interior minister, according to people familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified as the details haven’t been announced. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Homeland Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall are among officials expected to participate.

The visit is a follow-up to a trip US officials took to Mexico City at the end of December, where they met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO. While both sides acknowledge that it isn’t possible to stop undocumented migration completely, they committed to take steps to restore migration to historic levels that they consider sustainable, the people said. After those talks, the White House said that the governments agreed to promote “legal instead of irregular migration.”

A spokesman said that the US State Department looks forward to continuing conversations with Mexico, adding that participants in the December talks in Mexico City agreed to meet again this month to “ensure implementation of agreements and to develop solutions to emerging challenges.” Mexico’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The meetings come as Democrats and Republicans in Congress are attempting to break a deadlock over demands for more stringent border security as a condition for approving President Joe Biden’s funding requests, including aid for Ukraine. Migration over the US southern border will be a flashpoint in the run-up to the US presidential election in November after an influx of people has strained towns in border states like Texas and cities such as New York and Chicago.

Former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate, has stepped up his anti-immigrant rhetoric, arguing that those crossing the border are “poisoning the blood of our country,” language that the Biden campaign has said is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda.

Mexico’s government has urged Washington to invest in Central America’s development to reduce the pressure to migrate; increase removal flights for people who arrive in the US illegally, particularly from Venezuela, as a way to dissuade them from traveling; and to create more temporary worker visas and other legal pathways for immigration.

Mexico at the end of last year sent Venezuelans home on two repatriation flights for the first time in almost a year, part of its stepped-up enforcement efforts.

The US has sought to relieve pressure on the border by allowing up to 30,000 people from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua to use a mobile app to apply for so-called temporary parole into the US. It also set up facilities in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador — known as Safe Mobility Offices — to apply for pre-screened entry and reduce the need to make the dangerous trek to Mexico’s northern border.

But Mexico late last year declined to establish a related facility in the country’s south, which had been under consideration with the US and United Nations, according to people familiar with the discussion, who asked not to be identified without permission to speak publicly. The decision came after governors in places that were evaluated for hosting raised concerns that their states would become magnets for migrants, one of the people said.

(Updates with State Department comment in fourth paragraph, migration offices background in final two paragraphs.)

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