WASHINGTON - Top U.S. officials met with their Mexican counterparts Friday to launch discussions of a new security deal to replace a 13-year-old agreement that has failed to stem violence and drug-trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland held high-level meetings with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and others that are aimed at undoing the Merida Initiative, which since its signing in 2008 has been the linchpin of U.S.-Mexican cooperation to secure the border.
The Merida Initiative is widely considered unsuccessful.
On a call ahead of the meetings, a senior Biden administration official said, "After 13 years of the Merida Initiative, we're really due for an updated look at bilateral security cooperation across the full range of issues and concerns for our governments and our peoples."
After Friday's meetings, Blinken told reporters the new agreement would focus on tackling the "root drivers" of problems both nations face, including climate change, public health, corruption "the rule of law" and "inclusive economic opportunities."
President Lopez Obrador said, "We are open to cooperate for development, to work together, and to be respectful of our sovereignties. I believe that we will be able to jointly establish a new era in our relationship."
None of the leaders announced specifics of the deal or when it might be reached.
As the number of undocumented border crossers has surged past a 21-year high this year, the Biden administration has grown increasingly desperate for Mexico's cooperation.
Due to a U.S. policy imposed at the start of the Covid pandemic, known as Title 42, thousands of migrants from Central America, Haiti and other countries are living in camps in Northern Mexico as they await entry to the United States. Immigrants there are often subjected to assault and kidnapping by gangs who control the areas.
In many cases, the United States is not able to use Title 42 to expel migrants because Mexico has refused to take them back, citing capacity issues and an unwillingness to take in very young children who would be particularly vulnerable in such conditions.
Recently, more than 8,000 Haitian migrants voluntarily crossed back from the United States into Mexico to avoid U.S. deportation to Haiti.
Mayorkas said Friday the new agreement would allow the two countries to "focus more intensely than before on the root and the core" of issues like illegal drug trafficking and border crossing by "tackling the underlying reasons why they continue to exist and grow."