The Los Angeles Declaration could represent a big step towards real cooperation on migration across the Americas – World
By Andrew Selee
The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection signed by leaders of countries in the Western Hemisphere at the end of this week’s Summit of the Americas commits their governments to expanding channels for legal migration, supporting the integration of immigrants, to invest in migration management and to coordinate responses to migratory movements and displacement crises. Although the agreement is not binding, it marks a significant step forward in creating a common language and a coherent set of ideas for a more cooperative management of migratory movements across the Americas, a region that has experienced considerable mobility in recent years.
Latin American and Caribbean countries have a long history of cooperation around migration and protection. This story includes several mobility agreements that allow people to move within specific sub-regions (including Mercosur, Andean Community, CARICOM and a group of Central American countries). Attempts have also been made to synchronize humanitarian protection policies through the Cartagena Declaration in 1984 and, more recently, the Quito Process, which has helped governments coordinate their response to the Venezuelan displacement crisis. However, none of these agreements have involved such a large group of countries as the Los Angeles Declaration and, perhaps more importantly, none have so far involved the United States and Canada so directly.
The Los Angeles Declaration was signed on June 10 by the following 20 countries: Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama , Paraguay, Peru, United States and Uruguay.
What made the Los Angeles Declaration possible was that, for the first time in modern history, nearly every country in the hemisphere is now receiving countries for large populations of migrants and refugees. Just a few years ago, the United States and Canada were the main destinations for most migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean, while most other countries in the region had significant numbers of emigrants. When people from the Americas came together to talk about migration, it was almost always a conversation between immigration and emigration societies. Of course, there has always been migration between the countries of the region, but nothing on the scale of what exists today.
Since 2014, 6 million Venezuelans have left their country, of which more than 5 million have moved to other countries in the Americas – the highest number in South America and a significant number in the Caribbean, Central America and the Mexico. Since a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and the current political and economic crisis, several hundred thousand Haitians have left their homes not only for the traditional destinations of the Dominican Republic, the United States and Canada, but also for other Caribbean and Latin American countries. And the inhabitants of northern Central America left in particularly large numbers, mainly to the United States, but several hundred thousand people also settled in Costa Rica and Mexico. In fact, few countries in the region have not received large numbers of migrants and displaced people, and many have also become transit countries for those moving elsewhere.
Today, when countries in the hemisphere discuss migration, it is a dialogue about common challenges in managing large movements that affect almost all countries in the region, from the southern tip of Chile north to Canada, surprisingly similar.
It is significant that the Los Angeles Declaration was first proposed by the United States, a country that has generally been the most reluctant to discuss international cooperation around immigration management and policies. But it is a recognition of the increasingly hemispheric and truly regional nature and scale of migratory movements that can no longer be managed in isolation, even by the largest country in the hemisphere. And the commitments put forth in the Los Angeles Declaration echo sound ideas that have been on the table in other regional forums for years. The Declaration has gained ground in previous meetings between foreign ministers in Bogota, Colombia and Panama, and several key countries in the region have helped to provide the basic ideas that are contained in the outcome document, which sets out a set of four commitments for the future.
First, countries agreed to try to stabilize migration movements by investing in the root causes that push people to leave their countries and by supporting countries that have already hosted large populations of migrants and refugees. It makes sense to give people alternatives to migration, where possible, to reduce migration pressures, even though some of these efforts are likely to take a long time to succeed. And supporting countries that already host large populations of migrants and refugees, such as Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago, will help them successfully integrate newcomers into their societies, helping these countries prosper while preventing further migration. In a tangible commitment announced in Los Angeles, the US government unveiled several new development financing options to support these host countries, an important down payment on the commitment to help these countries succeed.
Second, countries agreed to expand legal pathways as an alternative to irregular migration. There is a body of evidence that legal pathways can help deter irregular migration by channeling those who want to migrate into safer and more sustainable options, which deterrence strategies alone have failed to accomplish. The Declaration calls for expanding channels for temporary work, finding options for family reunification and stepping up efforts to provide humanitarian protection. While each country will have to decide what to do within the framework of its own national legislation and according to its own priorities, the commitment to expanding legal options for mobility in an era of irregular migration and extensive movement in the hemisphere is a direction welcome to pursue. At the summit, the US government announced important ways to expand pathways to employment for Central Americans. Other countries, including Canada, Mexico and Spain, have also done so, a topic that will be covered next week in a report and webinar from the Migration Policy Institute.
Third, countries agreed to build their individual migration management capacities and increase information sharing and cross-border coordination to combat smuggling networks, combat human trafficking and conduct returns in ways that respect the dignity of returnees and avoid deporting those with valid protection claims. Until recently, most countries in the region had little reason to invest in their migration institutions, as there was relatively little movement to most countries, but this has changed rapidly over the past few years. last five or six years. And there is still much to be done to create communication and cooperation in managing basic migration processes across borders, especially between neighboring countries.
And finally, the countries agreed to create an early warning system to alert each other to large cross-border movements, such as the Venezuelan displacement crisis or the ongoing great migration of Cuban nationals. At present, there are few systematic ways to share this information or coordinate responses across multiple countries, so this is generally left to ad hoc measures that fall far short of the challenge.
It is of course unclear how the Los Angeles agreement will be implemented in practice. Like many other international declarations, it creates a set of shared proposals that governments agree they would like to pursue, but leaves the actual details to later negotiations. However, this agreement is unique for the Americas in that it is the first attempt to create a common set of ideas on an issue that has risen to the top of the political agenda in many countries but, until now, had never generated a hemispheric conversation. And the governments’ first commitments to specific deliverables suggest there is momentum to do more that is achievable in the coming months to give shape to the non-binding commitments set out in the agreement.
The Los Angeles Declaration will be successful if it is the first word, not the last, on migration cooperation in the Americas, and the spark for future efforts.