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Biden meeting with Mexico president amid efforts to roll back Trump immigration policies

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President Biden is set to meet with Mexican President Manuel López Obrador Monday afternoon amid the migrant crisis and as the new administration has taken steps to roll back Trump-era immigration policies.

The meeting, which is expected to take place virtually Monday, is set to focus on how the United States and Mexico can cooperate on economic and national security issues, as well as combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

López Obrador is reportedly expected to propose a new Bracero-style immigrant labor program to Biden, which could bring 600,000 to 800,000 Mexican and Central American immigrants a year to work legally in the United States.

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A senior Biden administration official declined to say whether Biden would support or oppose that proposal, but told the Associated Press that both the U.S. and Mexico agree on the need to expand legal pathways for migration.

The original Bracero program allowed Mexicans to work temporarily in the United States to fill labor shortages during World War II and for a couple of decades after the war. López Obrador said the U.S. economy needs Mexican workers because of “their strength, their youth.”

The Biden administration official told the Associated Press that the meeting would enable Biden to begin to institutionalize the relationship with Mexico, in a swipe at former President Trump, whose administration’s relationship with Mexico involved the threat of tariffs, a crackdown on migration and his efforts to construct a border wall along the U.S. southern border.

The border wall was a paramount 2016 campaign promise for Trump, in which he vowed Mexico would pay for the construction of the wall. 

Mexico did not pay for the wall. López Obrador’s government did, however, send troops to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala to deal with an unprecedented wave of asylum-seekers bound for the U.S.

Mexico hosted about 70,000 people seeking U.S. asylum while they waited for dates in immigration courts, a policy known as Remain in Mexico and officially as Migrant Protection Protocols.

Meanwhile, upon taking office, Biden immediately began to unwind Remain in Mexico, suspending it for new arrivals on Jan. 20, and announcing soon after that an estimated 26,000 people with active cases could be released in the United States.

Biden, though, has kept pandemic-related restrictions in place to expel anyone arriving at the U.S. border from Mexico without an opportunity to seek asylum. Typically, Mexicans and many Central Americans are returned to Mexico in less than two hours under Title 42 authority. Biden aides have signaled they have no immediate plans to lift it.

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With regard to other immigration efforts, Biden, on his first day in office, announced an “immediate termination” of funding for the border wall and restored the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allows people who came to the United States as children to request deferred immigration enforcement and work authorization for a renewal period of two years. The Trump administration had sought to end the program since September 2017, mounting a number of federal legal battles.

Biden is also backing legislation that would give legal status and a pathway to citizenship to an estimated 11 million people currently in the United States.

And last week, Biden lifted a Trump administration ban on green cards during the coronavirus pandemic that was blocking most legal immigration to the United States.

Biden, in his proclamation Wednesday, said shutting the door on legal immigrants “does not advance the interests of the United States.”

“To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here,” he said. “It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

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Biden added: “And it harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received, immigrant visas through the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery.”

Meanwhile, López Obrador, over the weekend, said the U.S. will also need temporary immigrant workers from Mexico to sustain economic growth.

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“It is better that we start putting order on migratory flows,” he said he plans to tell Biden, according to the Associated Press.

But the U.S. southern border has become a challenge for the Biden administration in recent weeks, as an increasing number of children are crossing into the country without visas.

According to the AP, Border Patrol agents are apprehending an average of more than 200 children crossing the border without a parent per day, but nearly all 7,100 beds for immigrant children maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services are full.

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The Biden administration has also preserved a policy, imposed at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, of quickly expelling people captured along the border and has tried to dissuade people from attempting the journey.

“This is not the time to come to the United States,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a February briefing. “We need the time to put in place an immigration process so people can be treated humanely.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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