Canada commits $27M on easing migration pressures at Summit of the Americas

Leaders from across the Americas, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, signed on Friday to what U.S. President Joe Biden called a "historic commitment" to ease the pressure of northward migration.

Deal includes promise to welcome 4,000 more migrants from Latin America, Caribbean by 2028

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a plenary session at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on Friday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

Leaders from across the Americas, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, signed on Friday to what U.S. President Joe Biden called a "historic commitment" to ease the pressure of northward migration.

The agreement, the central accomplishment of the Summit of the Americas in California, commits Canada to spend $26.9 million this year on slowing the flow of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection also includes a Canadian promise to welcome an additional 4,000 migrants from the region by 2028, as well as a pre-existing plan to bring in 50,000 more agricultural workers from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean.

Canada is already a beacon of hope for migrants from all over the world, Trudeau said during his closing news conference when asked why a G7 country is taking so few additional newcomers.

Simply bringing more and more people in doesn't address the underlying issues of economic, social and governmental instability that compel people to pack up and leave in the first place, he said.

"It's not simply enough to say, 'We'll just keep accepting people.' We need to do that, and we will, because that's the country we are," Trudeau said.

"But we also need to be making deliberate, targeted efforts to make sure people don't feel compelled, that the only choice they have is to put themselves and their families at tremendous risk in order to leave their communities in their country."

Progressive initiatives

To that end, the government announced an additional $118 million for progressive initiatives aimed at improving the lives of people where they already live in Latin America and the Caribbean.

That includes $67.9 million to promote gender equality; $31.5 million in health and pandemic response spending; $17.3 million on democratic governance and $1.6 million for digital access and anti-disinformation measures.

"Each of us is signing up for commitments and recognizing the challenges that we all share, and the responsibilities that impact all of our nations," Biden said earlier in the day, the 19 other leaders at the summit standing on the stage behind him.

He blamed the growing migratory pressure on the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by the war in Ukraine and what he called the "turmoil" wrought by autocracies in the region.

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Colombia, he said, is hosting millions of refugees from Venezuela, while as much as 10 per cent of Costa Rica's population consists of migrants — a problem he said demands a collective approach for the sake of the hemisphere's health and well-being.

"Our security is linked in ways that I don't think most people in my country fully understand, and maybe not in your country as well," Biden said. "Our common humanity demands that we care for our neighbours by working together."

The $26.9-million portion of Canada's commitment will go toward improving integration and border management, protecting the rights of migrants, gender equality measures and tackling human smuggling.

4 key pillars

The L.A. declaration is based on four key pillars, Biden said: stability and assistance for communities, wider legal migratory routes, humane migration management and co-ordinated emergency response.

The White House said it seeks "to mobilize the entire region around bold actions that will transform our approach to managing migration in the Americas."

It includes commitments from an array of Latin American and Caribbean nations on everything from economic stabilization and humanitarian relief to "regularizing" migrants living illegally in host countries.

Colombia, for instance, has already regularized 1.2 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and has agreed to do the same for 1.5 million more by the end of the summer.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. is doing the heaviest lifting, including $25 million US to support countries that are implementing new regularization programs, $314 million US for stabilization efforts and a $65-million US pilot project to support agricultural workers.

The Biden administration is also committing to resettle 20,000 refugees from the Americas over the next two years, three times the current resettlement rate, the White House said.

At the same time as the funding and resettlement efforts, the U.S. plans to crack down on human smuggling operations, including a new campaign that's "unprecedented in scale" aimed at disrupting and dismantling criminal smuggling enterprises in Latin America.