WASHINGTON (AP) — Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador agreed to spend $1.5 billion to improve “smart” border technology during meetings Tuesday with President Joe Biden — a move the White House says shows neighborly cooperation succeeding where Trump administration vows to wall off the border and have Mexico pay for it could not.
A person familiar with a series of agreements the two countries hammered out as their leaders met in Washington said they also called for other things like expanding the number of work visas the U.S. issues and welcoming more refugees. They also would continue joint patrols for Mexico and Guatemala to hunt human smugglers along their shared border.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agreement hadn’t been formally announced. But the Biden administration was excited about securing border funding from Mexico after years of failed attempts by former President Donald Trump.
The agreements came hours after the meetings began with López Obrador offering more than half an hour worth of comments. He touched on everything from Americans heading south for cheaper prices at the pump at Mexican gas stations to the New Deal politics of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, while chiding conservatives and saying the U.S. and Mexico should reject the “status quo” on the border.
López Obrador said both countries “should close ranks to help each other” amid spiking inflation and border challenges brutally underscored by 53 migrants who died last month after being abandoned in a sweltering tractor-trailer on a remote back road in San Antonio.
The Mexican leader also has called U.S. support for Ukraine in its war with Russia “a crass error” and criticized the U.S. for moving more swiftly to provide military funding to Ukraine than financial aid to Central America.
Speaking of the migrant deaths in Texas — which included people from Mexico and Central America — Biden said “we know we have to meet these challenges together.” He said the U.S. and Mexico agree on the need to increase opportunities for legal migration, especially since more workers can help alleviate U.S. labor shortages and potentially help calm rising prices.
“This is a proven strategy that fuels economic growth as well as reduces irregular migration,” Biden said.
López Obrador and Biden’s meeting comes after the Mexican president declined an invitation to the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last month after unsuccessfully urging the U.S. to include the leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — all countries with anti-democratic regimes.
The meeting between the two was important, however, given immigration has been a political flashpoint for Biden as top Republicans have pointed to a rising number of people from Mexico and Central America crossing the southern U.S. border illegally while slamming the administration and top Democrats for not doing more to slow it.
Tuesday’s meeting was also the second in-person meeting between Biden and López Obrador at the White House and come just before Biden leaves for Israel, the West Bank and Saudi Arabia.
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