Jun 1, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden set to secure historic refugee deal with Spain

Biden with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez

President Biden with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the G20 summit in Rome last October. Photo: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Biden administration is expecting a commitment from Spain — set to be announced at next week's Summit of the Americas — to resettle refugees from the Western Hemisphere for the first time ever, according to internal planning documents reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: The pledge — along with other expected commitments from Canada — could provide a political boost to President Biden, whose administration has continued to grapple with unmanageable volumes of asylum seekers at the southern border.

  • The documents show Canada plans to significantly expand its refugee commitment to the region and announce new recruitment efforts to bring Haitians into the country for work.
  • These are the first details of major deliverables tied to the summit in Los Angeles, which has been marred by boycott threats over reports that the administration would exclude the authoritarian leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
  • Yes, but: One senior Canadian government official told Axios, "Conversations are still ongoing and no decisions have been taken regarding specific commitments on migration at next week’s summit."

Details: The initial number of refugees resettled by Spain, which has been struggling to resolve a labor shortage, would be "modest" but "symbolically important," according to the documents.

  • Spain is also expected to agree to double or triple the number of temporary workers from Central America currently accepted through an employment-based migration program.
  • News of the planned commitment comes on the heels of talks in Madrid hosted by the Spain-U.S. Working Group on Central America, which met last week for the first time.
  • Spain's embassy in the U.S. had not provided comment at the time of publication. The White House declined to comment.

Context: Spanish colonial rule in the Americas ended over a century ago, but Spain still maintains close cultural and political ties with the region and views itself as Latin America's top advocate in the European Union.

  • "Spain first became a major destination for immigrants in the late 1990s and 2000s as its economy grew, including from Central and South America," the Migration Policy Institute's Kate Hooper told Axios.
  • While some provisions allowing visa-free travel have tightened a bit, Spain "remains a popular destination for Spanish-speaking countries," she said.
  • Nearly 626,000 people born in Central America and the Caribbean are living in Spain — 8.5% of the foreign-born population there, according to government data.

Meanwhile, Canada's "recruitment and promotion" strategy for Haitians would come as thousands of migrants from the disaster-stricken island have attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border monthly.

  • In September, more than 10,000 Haitian migrants formed a makeshift shelter under a bridge, drawing international attention and scrutiny over their treatment by U.S. authorities.
  • Axios recently reported Homeland Security intelligence is tracking around 10,000 Haitians waiting just south of the border, ready to cross.

Canada is also expected to announce a new target of 5,000 refugees over multiple years from the Western Hemisphere.

  • That's a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands of people who have attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in the past year.
  • But it would mark a significant increase for the region's northern-most neighbor, which welcomed fewer than 1,500 refugees from the hemisphere between January 2015 and March 2022, according to Canadian government data.

The big picture: The commitments would be part of a "Los Angeles Declaration" unveiled at the summit, according to the documents.

  • It's unclear what further policies will be included in the declaration or whether there will be a focus on any particular nationalities for refugee resettlement in Canada or Spain.
  • Migration issues will be a focus of the ninth installment of the summit, which is being hosted in the U.S. for the first time since 1994.
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