President Biden’s top cabinet officials will seek to forge a united front with Mexico during a series of meetings in Mexico City on Thursday that will focus on drug and gun trafficking, as well as illegal migration.
The U.S. officials — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland — arrived in the Mexican capital on Wednesday evening ahead of meetings that were scheduled to start on Thursday morning. They are particularly focused on bolstering efforts with Mexico to curtail the stream of deadly fentanyl wreaking havoc in communities throughout the United States.
American and Mexican officials have adopted increasingly critical rhetoric over the best way to block the trafficking of the synthetic drug, which is driving down life expectancy in the United States.
“The men and women of the Justice Department are working tirelessly every day to address the three core challenges we will discuss during our meetings: fentanyl, firearms trafficking and human smuggling,” Mr. Garland said in a statement to The New York Times
“The fentanyl being trafficked into the United States is the deadliest drug threat we have ever faced,” he added. “To fight it, we are going after every link in the cartels’ fentanyl trafficking networks, at every stage, and in every part of the world.”
During their visit, Mr. Garland, Mr. Mayorkas and Mr. Blinken will meet with a range of Mexican officials, including President Andrés Manuel López Obrador; his foreign minister, Alicia Bárcena Ibarra; and his security secretary, Rosa Icela Rodríguez.
Officials from both nations will hold a news conference on Thursday afternoon, but they are not expected to unveil new bilateral policies.
U.S. officials in recent weeks have pushed Mexico to invest more resources to intercept the chemicals shipped from China to Mexico’s ports and used to make fentanyl. The Biden administration also wants Mexican law enforcement to crack down on labs where it is produced.
But Mr. López Obrador has denied fentanyl is made in Mexico and has said his nation should not be blamed for the record number of overdoses in the United States.
“Fortunately, we do not have excessive addictions, drug consumption, like other countries, and that is very good,” Mr. López Obrador said during his regularly scheduled news briefing on Thursday before meeting with the U.S. officials. “We regret what is happening in the United States, which are our brothers but have a consumption of fentanyl that causes 100,000 deaths a year of young people. We do not have that.”
The two nations will also aim to improve their strategy for deterring illegal migration in the Western Hemisphere — one of Mr. Biden’s primary political vulnerabilities as the 2024 presidential campaign ramps up.
U.S. Border Patrol officials recorded more than 200,000 apprehensions of migrants illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexican border in September, the highest monthly total so far this year. They include about 50,000 apprehensions of Venezuelans, according to an administration official who spoke anonymously to confirm the preliminary data. CBS News earlier reported the border crossing data.
As migrants have overwhelmed border communities and cities throughout the United States, the Biden administration has increasingly relied on Mexico and Central American countries to create legal pathways for immigrants and to bolster their own border security to prevent people from making the journey north.
U.S. officials are particularly optimistic about the development of a new migration processing center in southern Mexico where migrants can apply for refugee status in the United States rather than journey to the border.
“The Biden administration will surely talk about its efforts to have more of the processing occur farther away from the border,” said Andrew Rudman, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan research institute based in Washington. He added that the officials would also most likely discuss Mr. López Obrador’s recent call for a summit to address migration, specifically for Latin American nations. He snubbed a similar summit hosted by Mr. Biden last year.
“People do not leave their towns for pleasure; they do it out of necessity,” Mr. López Obrador told reporters on Thursday. “So it is not a question of holding them back with barriers, with walls.”
The Mexican president was referring to a decision by the Biden administration to waive more than 20 laws, including environmental ones, to expand barriers along the border. It was a significant reversal for Mr. Biden, who promised during his campaign that “not another foot” of border wall would be erected after the Trump administration.
And while Mr. Blinken on Wednesday projected optimism about the collaboration with Mexico on migration, the additional wall construction risked splintering the two nation’s strategies.
“This authorization for the construction of the wall is a step backward because it does not solve the problem,” Mr. López Obrador said. “We have to address the causes.” Rather than relying on security measures to deter migrants, Mexico has pushed the United States to invest more in Latin America to improve conditions in migrants’ home countries.
As the number of border crossings has soared, so, too, has the criticism against Mr. Biden from members of his own Democratic Party.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois wrote a letter to the president this week saying, “The federal government’s lack of intervention and coordination at the border has created an untenable situation for Illinois.” And New York City’s mayor, Eric Adams, has for months criticized the Biden administration, warning that the tens of thousands of migrants will exhaust municipal resources. He is also traveling to Mexico and South America this week.
During a visit to Texas before arriving in Mexico City on Wednesday, Mr. Blinken projected optimism about partnering with Mexico to develop solutions to the crisis.
“I have to say we probably have more cooperation with Mexico now than since I’ve been doing this,” Mr. Blinken said.
Mexico has also been pressing the Biden administration to do more to stop the smuggling of firearms and other weapons from the United States to Mexico. U.S. officials said, however, that American laws make it easy to buy and resell firearms.