President Biden received President Rodrigo Chaves of Costa Rica at the White House on Tuesday as their countries try to contain a wave of migration in the Western Hemisphere.
The two leaders also discussed trafficking and efforts to tackle organized crime.
“What I have found with you, Mr. President, is that we are united by the vision that we share,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Chaves in the Oval Office. “A vision for future greater opportunities for freedom and equality and, frankly, dignity for all of our people.”
Mr Biden thanked Mr Chaves, who was elected last year, for his leadership “on the migration challenges we face every day.”
The Biden administration’s plan to halt illegal migration in the United States involves cracking down on asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border while working with Central American countries, such as Costa Rica, to find ways development on which migrants can apply for protection closer to their home country.
After the meeting, the White House announced that the State Department would send more than $12 million to Costa Rica through international partners to help the country address migration. The government also plans to send Costa Rica $24 million to improve policing and expand crime prevention programs.
Costa Rica recently agreed to build two centers where migrants can be treated for such legal protection without crossing the border. About 38,000 migrants from Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala have registered for legal protection through the program. More than 2,000 of these applicants have been referred to the US refugee program.
Mr Chaves hopes the sites will also ease the strain on his country’s asylum system. Costa Rica, a popular tourist destination, is struggling to cope with the number of migrants fleeing violence in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were more than 270,000 migrants in Costa Rica seeking protection at the end of 2022. As the country struggled with the surge, Mr Chaves introduced several restrictions on the country’s asylum system, including a 30-day deadline for migrants to apply for asylum and strict rules on issuing work permits.
The number of illegal border crossings at the US-Mexico border rose in July, following a sharp drop the previous month. June’s more than 99,500 crossings were a 42 percent drop from May, which the Biden administration attributed to a new asylum rule that raised the bar for a migrant to qualify for asylum in the United States. However, the number of crossings increased in July to more than 132,000.
The White House considers Costa Rica one of the strongest democracies in a region that has drifted toward authoritarianism in recent years. Mr Chaves, who promised to upend the Latin American political establishment and big business, attended Mr Biden’s Summit of the Americas, which was rejected by other key countries in the region, an appearance Mr Biden put forward on Tuesday. Mr Biden also hosted a summit for democracy in March with leaders from the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.
“I completely agree with your vision, the vision of the people of this great country,” Mr Chaves told Mr Biden. “Where prosperity must be widely shared.”
But Mr Chaves has also launched attacks against journalists investigating allegations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct, using executive powers to limit their sources of income. During his campaign last year, he also tried to downplay a World Bank investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him.
But during their meeting, which lasted just over an hour, the two leaders showed a united front on economic, security and migration issues.
“I can confirm to you, Mr. President, that Costa Rica is and will continue to be one of the strongest allies in the world when it comes to your economic and security interests,” Mr. Chaves told Mr. Biden.