The flow of migrants and trade, legal and illegal, across the US-Mexican border will be the focus Monday when President Joe Biden meets with counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Labrador in a virtual summit.
Their meeting comes as reports say the United States faces a new surge of undocumented migrants attempting to enter the country from its southern neighbor, as Biden eases the tough anti-immigration regime of predecessor Donald Trump.
On Friday White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the meeting would touch on cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in impoverished southern Mexico and Central America, Covid-19 recovery and economic cooperation.
Speaking in the northern state of Zacatecas on Saturday, Lopez Obrador said he will also emphasize how important migrant labor is to the US economy.
The two countries share a porous, nearly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border, with billions of dollars’ worth of commerce annually and large numbers of daily legal crossings by individuals.
But it also sees a huge level of illegal migrant crossing, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers trying to enter the United States, and large amounts of illicit drug trafficking from south to north.
Trump used the threat of tariffs on goods from Mexico to force Lopez Obrador to halt the flow of asylum-seeking migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, but with only partial success.
Under pressure, Lopez Obrador agreed to keep migrants in Mexico while their US asylum requests are processed.
Trump also tightened the door to legal workers from Mexico on which both countries depend, the United States for farm labor and Mexico for remittances.
Lopez Obrador estimated Saturday that the US economy would need 600,000 to 800,000 migrant workers a year.
In its opening effort to reform immigration policies, last week the Biden administration proposed that millions of people living in the United States without legal documents, particularly farmworkers largely of Mexican origin, be given “green cards” to be able to stay and work legally in the United States.
Another key issue for the two leaders is cooperating on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mexico has one of the world’s highest death tolls from the coronavirus, but has complained of lack of adequate access to vaccines, while the United States is a major producer of vaccines.
The video meeting will follow Biden’s first such “summit” with the leader of the United States’ northern neighbor Canada, Justin Trudeau.
The three countries’ economies are closely joined by their free trade agreement, originally known as NAFTA but recast as the US—Mexico—Canada Agreement (USMCA) after Trump forced a renegotiation claiming it was unfair to the United States.