By Jarrett Renshaw and Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON -U.S. President Joe Biden will meet virtually with Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday amid criticism of Washington’s plan to lift COVID-era immigration restrictions at the U.S. border and differences between the two countries over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The meeting comes just a few days after a federal judge ordered the Department of Homeland Security to halt its efforts to lift a public health order known as Title 42, a COVID-era policy that allows the expulsion of migrants to prevent the spread of the virus.
Mexican officials are concerned the repeal of the Trump-era measure to tighten the U.S. border will encourage a spike in migration and more profits for criminal gangs unless Washington does more to help mitigate the impact. [nL3N2W708A ]
The meeting also comes as Mexico has been critical of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but reluctant to join the United States and its European allies in issuing sanctions against Russia.
“We respect Mexico as a leader in the United Nations and we obviously hope that they will join us in imposing a cost on the Kremlin for what it is doing …. by working with us to enforce sanctions implemented by the United States and our partners,” a senior Biden administration official said on Friday.
The official acknowledged that the United States and Mexico would have “inevitably different approaches” but said they had a “common vision” that the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin was unjustified.
Lopez Obrador said earlier this month that Mexico does not accept the Russian invasion of Ukraine and “we are in favor of a peaceful solution to the conflict.”
While his government backed a U.N. vote urging Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Mexico abstained in a vote at the General Assembly on suspending Russia from the U.N.‘s human rights body.
The White House has said the two leaders “plan to discuss cooperation on migration, joint development efforts in Central America, competitiveness and economic growth, security, energy, and economic cooperation.”
They will also talk about the upcoming Summit of the Americas, which the United States will host in Los Angeles in June and convenes leaders from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean.
The two countries made progress in security cooperation in October with the announcement of the Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health, and Safe Communities, but they still face hurdles on issues like immigration and energy.
The Biden administration had planned to end the Title 42 order on May 23 and Republicans have focused on the repeal to attack Democrats over immigration ahead of the midterm elections.
Biden, a Democrat, has struggled to implement what he describes as a more humane and orderly system at the U.S.-Mexico border amid record numbers of migrants arrested while crossing illegally, unfavorable court rulings, and political opposition from Republicans and some in his own party.
U.S. border authorities arrested 210,000 migrants attempting to cross the border with Mexico in March, the highest monthly total in two decades.
The March total is a 24% increase from the same month a year earlier, when 169,000 migrants were picked up at the border, the start of a rise in migration that left thousands unaccompanied children stuck in crowded border patrol stations for days while they awaited placement in overwhelmed government-run shelters.
A senior administration official said migration will be a main subject of discussion and the two leaders will focus on a shared response to the issue, including tackling the root causes such as economic inequality in the region.