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What Biden’s deeply troubling asylum limit means for the economy

FILE – A woman from Cuba waits with other migrants to be processed to seek asylum after crossing the border into the United States, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, near Yuma, Ariz. An underground market has emerged for migrants seeking U.S. sponsors since the Biden administration announced last month that it would accept a limited number of people from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. Applicants for the humanitarian parole program need someone in the U.S. to promise to provide financial support for at least two years. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Despite celebrating its positive strides on issues as important as the climate crisis and effective multilateralism, I am deeply troubled by the Biden administration’s latest proposal to limit access to asylum.

A decision seemingly born of an electoral calculus, it neither benefits the United States nor its relationship with countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean at what should be a time of unrivaled opportunity despite very real challenges.

Biden’s turn to robust industrial policy is bringing jobs back, for the well-being — and pride — of the United States, as he himself said in the State of the Union. According to the U.S. Labor Department, however, the country faces a declining labor force and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is warning “we hear every day from our member companies — of every size and industry, across nearly every state — they’re facing unprecedented challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs.” If the objective is to spur economic growth fueling the creation of good-paying jobs, the United States should be expanding legal pathways for migration, not shrinking them.

The new limits on asylum also fly in the face of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection adopted at last year’s Summit of the Americas. The declaration marked a turning point, with the United States recognizing migration management as a shared responsibility for the first time. The declaration’s holistic approach is essential to finding sustainable solutions given the economic and migration realities in the Americas today.

A growing U.S. economy with low unemployment has traditionally been one of the most reliable predictors of migration from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States. This dynamic has been even more pronounced when it coincides with periods of economic stagnation — or worse — in Latin America and the Caribbean like we face today. To make matters more complex, human mobility across the region is being driven only in part by economics, as millions flee authoritarian regimes or failed states in Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti while others are displaced by the accelerating climate crisis, among other factors.

As the former president of Costa Rica, I experienced this firsthand, and I am proud of our efforts to welcome our Nicaraguan sisters and brothers fleeing Daniel Ortega´s oppressive regime. With this new asylum proposal, countries like Costa Rica in the case of Nicaragua, or Colombia, which has provided stability for more than 2.5 million of the more than 7 million Venezuelans forced to flee during the last 7 years, will be forced to bear even greater burdens. Burdens for which they are ill prepared to deal, and which would deepen polarization around migration. In Costa Rica’s case, I fear such an approach would make the country less welcoming, fueling xenophobia and further displacement. 

Instead, the region needs faithful and forceful implementation of instruments like the LA declaration, including rallying greater multilateral development financing for migrant integration and regularization efforts throughout the region. It also needs to build responsible labor pathways to maximize the economic opportunity the current moment presents.

Rising to the moment in the Americas also requires finding new ways to foster sustainable economic development and democracy. The ongoing realignment of global supply chains represents a generational opportunity for the Western Hemisphere to become a synergetic, sustainable and productive region. One from which the region can emerge as a block of shared prosperity that advances human, environmental and economic well-being — in short, a place where our people can thrive without having to seek a better future elsewhere.

At last year’s Summit of the Americas, Biden himself proposed a way forward to enhance shared, sustainable economic growth throughout the region — the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity (APEP). Just last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the initial 12 countries that will begin APEP negotiations — the United States, Canada, Mexico, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. If fully embraced, the partnership can deepen economic integration in ways that could profoundly improve the lives of hundreds of millions.

This requires a multidimensional and comprehensive approach, recognizing Latin America and the Caribbean demographic advantages, agricultural production and potential, critical minerals (essential to the energy transition) and biodiversity. Absent strong and just linkages to North America, however, Latin America and the Caribbean will struggle to thrive globally; will continue to be plagued by instability and democratic backsliding and will become more dependent on China´s growth.

Through robust partnerships on economic integration and migration, the time is now for the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean to seize an unparalleled opportunity to improve countless lives in the Western Hemisphere and make us all more secure and prosperous. Not to overburden the most vulnerable in the hemisphere.

Carlos Alvarado Quesada was president of Costa Rica from 2018 to 2022 and is a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Tags Asylum Authoritarianism Biden Climate change climate refugees Immigration Latin America Summit of the Americas White House

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