Trees for visas: Mexico wants jobs programme, US offers relief

Mexican President Lopez Obrador and US Vice President Kamala Harris hold meeting to discuss migrant surge, corruption.

Vice President Kamala Harris holds a virtual bilateral meeting from Washington with Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador discussing migration and corruption on May 7, 2021 [Leah Millis/Reuters]

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has pitched a tree-planting jobs programme in Central America that he said should lead to work visas in the United States, in immigration talks on Friday with US Vice President Kamala Harris.

At the start of the call, Harris said the United States and Mexico must fight violence and corruption together, along with the root causes of migration in Central America.

“Together, we must fight violence, we must fight corruption and impunity”, Harris said.

President Joe Biden has entrusted Harris with leading efforts to cut immigration from Mexico and Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – as the administration grapples with an increase in people crossing into the United States at the southern border.

Harris addressed the crisis on the US-Mexico border, which she hoped to alleviate by providing relief to the Northern Triangle.

“[M]ost people don’t want to leave home and when they do it is often because they are fleeing some harm or they are forced to leave because there [is] no opportunity”, she said.

Lopez Obrador said he had a specific proposal he wanted to discuss with Harris. He did not give details, but told reporters minutes earlier that the tree-planting proposal was at the top of his mind.

During the call, the Mexican president noted “we have a common border that is over 3000km [1864 miles] long and we need to understand one another and avoid fighting”.

Lopez Obrador, who touted his good relations with both the previous Trump administration and the current Biden administration, told reporters at his regular news conference on Friday morning that he also favours safer migration.

“If there’s a regular, normal and orderly migratory flow, we can avoid the risks migrants take who are forced to cross our country,” he said.

The trees-for-visas proposal was met with some surprise when Lopez Obrador previously raised it at a Washington climate summit in April.

Before the meeting, Lopez Obrador also announced Mexico had sent a diplomatic note to the US asking for an exexplanation about its funding of an anti-corruption group critical of the government. He did not bring up the request during the meeting.

Asked what Harris hoped to accomplish in the talks and what if any agreements were expected, Ricardo Zuniga, the US special envoy on Central America’s Northern Triangle countries, said on Wednesday that the discussions would delve into immigration but also go beyond that issue.

“We’re undertaking these kinds of engagements with the view of the totality of our relationship with Mexico in mind,” Zuniga said. “Mexico is our largest trading partner … We’re deeply connected to them through economics and, through … our value chain and production chains.”

Harris has said she will visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8. It will be her first foreign trip as vice president.

“No matter how much effort we put in on curbing violence, on providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity, on any event … we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists,” Harris said last week.

US facilities packed with underage migrants are being used to criticise the Biden administration’s handling of migration by both the Republican party and some progressives.

The majority of the migrants are unaccompanied minors, some as old as 17.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies