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Background Press Call on President Biden's Upcoming Meeting with President López Obrador of Mexico

July 11, 2022

Via Teleconference

5:30 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, William. And thank you, everyone, for joining us today and for your patience as we had to push this back due to a long-running meeting. Appreciate you all joining our background press call to preview President Biden's upcoming meeting with President López Obrador.

As a reminder of the ground rules, this briefing will be on background, attributable to "senior administration officials," and is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, Tuesday, July 12.

For your awareness but not for reporting purposes, our speakers tonight will be [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].

With that, I'll kick it over to [senior administration official] to do our opening remarks. And after that, we'll open it up for Q&A.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you, everybody, for joining the phone call and for accommodating the last-minute changes.

So, getting right to it, the President has invited President López Obrador to the White House with an objective of building on the significant progress made at the Summit of the Americas this past June and to discuss our broad and deep partnership.

This is the second -- this will be the second time that the two leaders will meet at the White House, though they also had a virtual meeting during the pandemic. And we've had a number of calls, as well as the Vice President making her first international trip to Mexico and also maintaining an active engagement with the Mexican leader. And then, of course, the wife of President López Obrador was hosted here by Dr. Biden for a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

So we've maintained a very active pace of bilateral engagement with Mexico.

So this -- this just builds on the first virtual bilateral meeting that was held in March of last year, their bilateral at the North American Leaders Summit last November, and as I mentioned, several calls.

At the summit, you saw that Mexico supported the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, which is a marquee economic initiative for the Biden administration. Mexico also joined the United States -- a total of 21 countries if you include the United States -- in adopting the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, a framework to share responsibility and economic support for countries most impacted by refugee and migration flows.

Key is that it recognizes that the migration challenge is a hemispheric challenge. That is not just the migration challenge, it is also an economic and security challenge that all of us need to work together to address. We expect the two leaders to discuss their common vision for North America and efforts to address global challenges such as the impact of Russia's aggression in Ukraine, which has affected working families in both countries as well as the rest of the hemisphere.

And following the meeting, we expect to announce joint actions to improve border infrastructure and address irregular migration; enhance law enforcement cooperation to disrupt the flow of fentanyl to both our countries; and promote clean energy, economic innovation, and prosperity.

Now, for example, we will commit to completing a multi-year joint U.S.-Mexico border infrastructure modernization effort for projects along the 2,000-mile border. The joint effort seeks to align priorities, unite border communities, and make the flow of commerce and people more secure and efficient.

I'll put a finer point on this. The point of entry at San Ysidro is the most -- is the busiest land border crossing in the entire world. And that is a place where in -- during the Obama administration, we made significant investments to make sure that it was functioning effectively.

Similarly, we're looking at other similar ports of entry like, for example, Otay Mesa II, which is -- our objective ultimately is -- a part of the -- a joint venture is to create a 21st century border crossing for the San Diego/Baja California mega-region that will really enhance regional mobility and fuel economic growth and binational trade at the same time that we are, of course, working on very important migration issues.

We will also commit to deepen our cooperation to combat transnational criminal organizations that foment violence in both countries. To that end, we will establish a U.S.-Mexico operational task force under the bilateral Bicentennial Partnership on Security that was launched last October to ensure that we are accelerating our joint efforts to disrupt the flow of fentanyl into our countries.

And as the United States and Mexico will also launch a bilateral working group on labor migration pathways and worker protections, as well as expand our diplomatic coordination on migration issues throughout the region. And first and foremost as well is just our economic agenda, as I had mentioned, under the Americas Partnership, and as well as the High-Level Economic Dialogue, which will meet in September of this year.

So, more to come on this tomorrow.

President Biden and his administration firmly believe our relationship with Mexico is a priority and critical to delivering for the American people and people in the hemisphere. And you will see that action on Tuesday.

I think it's also important to mention that the Vice President is going to host the Mexican President in a small breakfast tomorrow to also follow up on what has been really an active pace of engagement by the Vice President on our Root Causes Strategy, on our bilateral engagement with Mexico to make sure that we're following up on a lot of the conversations that they've had since her visit to Mexico last year.

So I will now turn it back to the moderators and my other colleague. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, William. If you could please remind everyone on how to raise their hand to submit a question.

Q: Hi there. Thank you, guys, for doing this call. I wanted to ask if the U.S. is going to make specific demands on Mexico to stop migrants from reaching the border, and specifically what. And also, if you guys have seen an increase in immigration enforcement from Mexico in recent weeks. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, I can take that question. This is [senior administration official]. You know, migration cooperation is a top priority for both President López Obrador and President Biden. I think this will be a top subject of conversation tomorrow.

You know, I think we view each other as equal partners in this -- two countries that have been significantly impacted by migration and refugee flows.

You know, as [senior administration official] mentioned, I think we expect the focus to be a lot on how we can expand legal pathways to both countries, with a particular focus on labor pathways from Central America but also from other parts of the region; how we can continue to cooperate to combat the multibillion-dollar smuggling industry.

And I think we saw with the tragedy in San Antonio just the incredible impact of these smuggling networks and the need to, with great urgency, address that. Both countries are -- continue to work to expand their asylum systems and also to repatriate those that don't qualify.

So all of these are themes that are encapsulated in the Los Angeles Declaration that both countries championed. So, you know, I think that, just to sum it up, migration will be certainly a central focus of the discussion.

Thanks.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing that. To piggyback off of that question, can you elaborate more on what you mean by diplomatic coordination on migration and expanding legal pathways? For example, does that mean Mexico opening up more visas?

And then, also, is human smuggling and any efforts on tackling human smuggling networks expected to be part of the conversation, given the incident in San Antonio?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, Priscilla. I think you might have seen with the Los Angeles Declaration that Mexico made some concrete commitments related to expanding labor pathways to Mexico, and the U.S. did as well.

I think we both are recognizing that if we want to address irregular migration to our countries, we have to open up additional legal pathways. And legal migration can fuel economic growth. So this is an area of real common interest from both countries.

And so, you know, as [senior administration official] mentioned, there will be -- we will be announcing a binational labor pathways working group. And I think the hope is that the U.S. and Mexico can champion this and bring other countries to the table, because we see this as a real important way that we can combat irregular migration.

And then I think we will be looking at other legal pathways like refugee resettlement and family reunification. So this is an area where we're really grateful to have Mexico as a partner and a leader.

And certainly, I think the tragedy in San Antonio is top of mind for both the U.S. and Mexico. We know many of those who perished in the incident were Mexican nationals. So we are already doing a lot to expand our cooperation on addressing these human smuggling networks. And so I think tomorrow will be really important in order to make sure that we're able to advance together on that.

Q: Hi, can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We can hear you.

Q: Hello?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we can hear you.

Q: Ah, sorry. Sorry about that. I wanted to ask about, like, the comments that President Obrador made a couple of weeks ago regarding the pardon for Julian Assange. It's something that he has been insisting on, and he said that he was going to bring it up during his meeting with President Biden. And he even made some comments about the Statue of Liberty.

So I wanted to know how the White House (inaudible), and if you expect this to be addressed during the meeting that both leaders are going to have. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. So I guess the way that I would answer is that presidents will raise what they want to raise. And for us, any issue is on the table. The President will be prepared to discuss whatever the President of Mexico raises. So I'm not going to speculate on exactly whether or not it'll be raised.

I mean, our focus certainly remains on what is a broad and, I think, deep agenda with Mexico that goes from -- as you'll see from the joint statement, that includes everything from -- everything my colleagues said on migration, and also our joint efforts that -- advancing economic cooperation; issues related to energy and climate; issues related to food security, accelerating our efforts on security cooperation, border infrastructure, regional and global issues.

So there is a significant set of topics that we are focused on that represent, really, the core of the U.S.-Mexico relationship; the core of what really is -- are some of the challenges facing the people of the United States, the people of Mexico, and the people of the Americas.

But again, the two presidents will discuss whatever is on their mind.

Over.

Q: Hello there. Thanks so much for having the call, [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. Appreciate it.

Understanding that -- what you just said about not wanting to speculate in the meeting, I am hoping, just since we've covered some other topics that are likely to come up in this meeting tomorrow, if you can say whether or not -- just how much of a priority it is for the administration to also communicate any concerns around any of the criticism that's been lodged against President López Obrador for his criticism against journalists and the free press at a time where we're now seeing an increasing number of journalists go missing as well. How much that sense of sort of accountability, when it comes to democratic norms, will be brought to this meeting tomorrow?

And then, also, just to follow up on the legal pathways question, just hoping to kind of get a direct answer on whether or not the administration is prepared to announce any sort of expansion of work visas tomorrow. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. On the first, what I'll say is that the issue of combating corruption, the issue of democracy and governance, the issue of the importance of a free press are issues that have been discussed between both leaders in the past.

We don't always telegraph those issues publicly, but they're generally the subject of a wide-ranging discussion between the two leaders as they think about, really, the importance of North America and, frankly, just how -- as the President and Vice President really are thinking about the economic prosperity, security of the United States and the working families here -- how, really, collaboration with Mexico is really central to that.

So these are topics that certainly may come up tomorrow, as they have come up in the past.

We have been very clear that this administration's priority, not just as it relates to the relationship with Mexico but around the world, combating corruption is at the center of everything that we're going to be doing internationally and, certainly, as you saw -- may have seen at the Summit of the Americas -- initiatives to really support independent journalism everywhere.

Because for us, I think an independent and free press is really the backbone of a functioning democracy, which is something the President cares deeply about, the -- I think the global competition that we are seeing between autocracies and democracies.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the legal pathways, you know, just last month, President Biden did announce some specific numerical commitments: the 11,500 in H-2Bs, non-agricultural seasonal worker visas for North and Central America and Haiti.

He also announced our new fair recruitment practice guidelines, as well as the $65 million pilot project that the U.S. Agricultural Department will be launching to help U.S. farmers recruit workers from the region.

So, you know, Mexico also made very concrete commitments related to labor pathways and protection at the Summit of the Americas. So tomorrow, I think, will be much more focused on implementation and making sure that both of our countries lead by example.

As I mentioned before, we want to bring other countries on board to do similar things, to also make concrete commitments. We really think if we want to truly reduce irregular migration, it can't just be the U.S. and Mexico; we need lots of other countries to come forward and offer a legal pathway.

So tomorrow will be much more about cooperation and implementation and not so much about specific numerical commitments.

Q: Hi. Jorge Ramos here from Univision. Two questions. One practical one: At what time are they going to be meeting? And is there going to be access to the press?

And the second question: Again, let me go back with -- about the visas. As you know, the Mexican press has reported that López Obrador is going to be asking for another 300,000 visas, so half of them for Mexicans and half of them for people from Central America. Is the White House willing to -- is the White House open to that possibility?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, thank you, Jorge. It's really great to hear your voice. I don't know if the meeting time has been noticed, but it was -- right now it is tentatively scheduled for the morning, so around 11 o'clock, though I think we'll commit to just following up with you on the exact timings, as I know they'll notice to press the call time.

I'll leave it there. And maybe we can follow up via press channels because I don't want to get out ahead of them.

And then I'll turn to my colleague for the other.

MODERATOR: Yes, and just to jump in on the on the guidance of the timing, we'll have a press guidance out later tonight to all of you with specific details that we can make reportable at that time.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. And on visas, you know, I think we were all really pleased to see over 300,000 H-2 visas issued to Mexican nationals in FY21. I believe that was a record. And it's good for Mexico, it's good for the United States. It certainly fuels our economy. And as you know, the H-2A program is uncapped, and so there, the sky is the limit.

H-2B is capped, but we've seen, you know, multiple times, under the Biden-Harris administration, efforts to expand access to that program to address labor shortages in our tourism industry and other key industries where we can utilize the H-2B program.

So, you know, I think that, again, this is an area where the two countries are very much aligned. And so we expect that this will be -- to be a subject of conversation between our two leaders tomorrow.

MODERATOR: Great. And thank you, everyone, for joining our background call today. Unfortunately, we are out of time, but we appreciate everyone's flexibility tonight and you all joining us to preview this exciting visit tomorrow.

As a reminder of the ground rules, this call was held on background with the contents attributable to "senior administration officials," and it is embargoed until 5:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning.

Thank you all, and I hope everyone has a great evening.

5:50 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call on President Biden's Upcoming Meeting with President López Obrador of Mexico Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356787

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