SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much, and let me just first start by apologizing to colleagues because I think I’m responsible for making us a little bit late today. Thank you for your patience, but especially thank you all for being here, and (inaudible), thank you so much for all of the work on very short notice that you put into bringing us all together today, both in this room and virtually. I’m so glad to see so many colleagues here today from across our region.
And it is vital that we come together today because as we’ve heard from President Duque, from the vice president, and you all know this better than anyone: The migration challenge that we’re facing in our hemisphere is not one country’s problem. It’s our shared problem, and it cannot be solved by any one country. We have to solve it together. That’s the spirit, I think, that brings us together today, and I hope informs the work that we’re doing.
The situation that we have before us is, as we’ve heard, unprecedented. Record numbers of migrants moving across our hemisphere. In the past, we often saw increased migration from a few countries facing some kind of acute crisis, but that’s not the case now. Instead, migrants are leaving many countries across the region all at once. And mass migration within the Americas doesn’t just flow in one direction or for just one reason. It’s complex, it’s an evolving phenomenon, and it challenges our collective ability to respond.
First and foremost, I think we have to recognize that this is a serious humanitarian issue. Millions of migrants are living in dangerous, insecure situations. They’re vulnerable to exploitation, often without the basics that they need to simply survive. Desperate people are risking their lives and their children’s lives without any guarantee that their journeys will end safely. There have been countless tragedies, almost certainly more than we even know.
It’s also a serious challenge for countries that are hosting migrants or dealing with migrant flows. It’s a public health issue at a time when our countries are working very hard to control COVID‑19, which is why we encourage countries to incorporate refugees and immigrants into their planning for vaccine distribution. And it’s a huge strain on social services and law enforcement. In many cases, small communities and border regions bear the burden of tens of thousands of people suddenly arriving at their doorstep. And under current conditions, mass migration is poised to increase in much of our region, which will further challenge our ability to manage it in an orderly way.
So for all of these reasons, the problem as it stands now is unsustainable. We have to address it quickly before it grows more overwhelming. And we have to address it sustainably, to include dealing more effectively with the root causes of irregular migration, especially a lack of economic opportunity. We have to take specific and concrete steps that will have an immediate effect to interrupt the cycle and slow down the numbers so that the situation as a whole can become safer, more orderly, and more humane in the short term. And critically, we have to take steps that will have a longer-term effect to change the conditions that gave rise to the spike in migration and help prevent this from happening again in the future.
So it’s a test. It’s a test for our governments. It’s a test for our region. I’m convinced that we can meet the test if – if we’re coordinated, if we’re collaborative, and if our approach is comprehensive. The United States is committed to this. We’re already working closely with governments and civil society partners in Mexico, in Central America. We hope we can extend that partnership to all of the countries represented here today and that we can facilitate more regional cooperation. That’s what this challenge demands. It’s why we’re here today.
So let me very briefly address our top priorities. I know we’re going to get into much more detail as we get into the meeting. First, we must more effectively manage the immediate situation, as I said. That includes doing a few things as soon as we can. We have to strengthen border enforcement, for example, by requiring visas and by meticulously controlling entry in cases where visa-free travel unintentionally aids irregular migration. We have to improve asylum processes so that people who have valid claims can be heard expeditiously. And we have to expand legal pathways and create more options for protection and for resettlement.
For people who aren’t found to have protection claims or other legal reasons to remain in another country, we must make it easier to repatriate them.
Second, we must focus on protecting the most vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and smuggling. We need to better identify them, connect them with services and organizations that can help them, resettle them in safe areas, and crack down on transnational criminal organizations, on smugglers, on traffickers who are exploiting them.
Third, the situation with Venezuelan and Haitian refugees and migrants is particularly urgent. We have to work together to address the situations that are causing so many of these citizens to flee, and we must direct resources to communities across the region that are hosting migrants and refugees from these countries.
And fourth, in the longer term, as I said, we have to address the root causes of migration. We all know there are many factors that lead people to decide to migrate. Those factors can be complex. But often they boil down to one profound reason, which is a lack of hope that life in their home countries will improve. Often that’s because of too few economic opportunities, and the United States wants to work with you to change that. You heard President Duque speak to it.
President Biden’s Build Back Better World initiative seeks to invest, for example, in climate-resilient infrastructure projects that will create jobs and connect communities with critical services and opportunities. We want our first Build Back Better World projects to be in the Americas. We made our first listening tour last month to Ecuador, to Colombia, to Panama, to begin conversations about potential projects. Our Development Finance Corporation also stands ready to be a close partner with all of you. We have development assistance to offer, and we want to partner with you to make sure that it helps vulnerable communities in your countries. Vice President Harris’s call to action for Central America has brought private companies and NGOs into this effort as well.
These are just a few examples of how the United States can be, wants to be your partner not only in facilitating development assistance but in increasing investment so that we can together lay a foundation for long-term inclusive growth across the Americas.
There’s another root cause of migration we have to address, and of course, that is the climate crisis. It’s jeopardizing critical resources like food and water. It’s displacing people from their homes and communities in areas where droughts and floods are becoming more frequent and severe. We know that these factors are contributing to migration. We know this problem is only going to get worse unless we act, and act quickly and ambitiously to reduce emissions, slow global warming, invest in climate resilience so that the changing climate can have a less devastating impact on people’s livelihoods and their well-being.
We see today’s ministerial meetings, as Marta Lucia said, a jumping-off point, an opportunity for a new level of partnership and coordination that we will continue for as long as it takes to get the job done, to get the current situation under control, to put us on a more stable path for the future.
Ultimately, migration is about people wanting a better life for themselves and their families. Together we can help make that happen both by making migration safe, orderly, humane, and by laying a foundation for more inclusive growth and opportunity across the hemisphere that we share.
So thank you again, all of you, for being here today. I very much look forward to our detailed discussion and I’m grateful for the partnership that we’re showing. Thank you. Gracias.