The United States promised Thursday to do more to combat arms smuggling with Mexico, which said that early efforts have succeeded in denting the country’s long dire homicide rate.
Top officials from the neighboring nations met in Washington after also sealing a deal that would keep in Mexico most of the Venezuelan migrants seeking to enter the United States, an arrangement that drew criticism from some usual allies of President Joe Biden.
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the two nations worked together to seize 32,000 weapons this year and credited the effort with a 9.2 percent drop in homicides inside his country.
“These are not just statistics. We’re talking about saving lives,” Ebrard said.
“There is still a ways to go; this doesn’t mean everything is solved. But the most important indicator is that for the first time in the past few years we have seen a reduction not just in homicides but kidnappings, robberies and vehicle theft.”
The cooperation is part of a so-called Bicentennial Framework sealed a year ago to mark two centuries of diplomatic relations.
US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the two countries would set up a new task force to see “what more we can do to counter this problem.”
“We will be unrelenting in our attack of it,” he told a news conference.
Mexico has long pointed the finger at the United States and its lax gun laws for the flow of weapons to its cartels, which in turn are often funded by selling drugs to US consumers.
Mexico on Monday filed its latest lawsuit in a US court, seeking action against an Arizona gun seller accused of working with smugglers.
Mindful of political sensitivities in the United States, where the rival Republican Party champions the right to bear arms, Mayorkas stressed that the two countries were working only against transnational smuggling and not on domestic gun policy.
– Curbing Venezuelan migration –
The Biden administration took office pledging a more humane approach to migrants than under former president Donald Trump, who had promised a wall on the Mexican border.
But in a policy mirroring Trump’s efforts to block Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence, the Biden administration announced Wednesday that Venezuelans who try to walk or swim into the United States would be sent to Mexico and not admitted.
Nearly six million Venezuelans have fled years of economic implosion under leftist leader Nicolas Maduro. Some 2.4 million are in neighboring Colombia but a rising number have tried to enter the United States.
The Biden administration said it would also let some 24,000 Venezuelans enter lawfully if they have support in the United States and pass vetting, in line with procedures for Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion.
Senator Bob Menendez, a member of Biden’s Democratic Party who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, praised the legal pathway but said it was “inexcusable” to send more of the Venezuelan migrants to Mexico.
The decision “adds salt to an open wound while further eroding our asylum system that President Biden promised to restore,” Menendez said in a statement.
Daniel Berlin of the International Rescue Committee said that restrictive policies “only fuel the further exploitation of those in desperate need of safety.”
Mayorkas insisted that the new policy would discourage Venezuelans from taking “desperate and dangerous” measures including through human smugglers.
Instead they will be encouraged to “take the humane, safe and orderly pathway to a better life,” he said.
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