Blinken and Mayorkas to press Mexican counterparts to drive down border crossings as Biden faces increasing pressure

EAGLE PASS, TEXAS - DECEMBER 19: In an aerial view, an immigrant family crosses to the American side of the Rio Grande on December 19, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas. A major surge of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek political asylum has overwhelmed U.S. border authorities in recent weeks. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

An immigrant family crosses to the American side of the Rio Grande on December 19, 2023 in Eagle Pass, Texas. A major surge of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek political asylum has overwhelmed U.S. border authorities in recent weeks.John Moore/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Senior US officials will head to Mexico Wednesday to seek more help from their counterparts to drive down border crossings as President Joe Biden faces increasing pressure over the handling of the US southern border.

Immigration has been a political vulnerability for Biden amid fierce criticism from Republicans and some members of his own party over the situation at the US-Mexico border. This month, the issue fell at the center of the president’s foreign policy agenda, as the White House lobbied for aid to Ukraine and Israel amid their war efforts. Lack of consensus over border policy changes ultimately kept Biden from clinching billions of dollars in funds for Ukraine, Israel and the border before the end of the year.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Homeland Security officials have discussed a range of ways Mexico can help drive down numbers at the US border that will be among their asks, including moving migrants south, controlling the railways that are used by migrants to move north, and providing incentives to not journey to the border like visas.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and White House Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall will attend the gathering, which bookends a year that kicked off with migration as a key issue.

In January, Biden met with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City for the North American Leaders’ Summit, where, along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, they addressed migratory flows in the region.

Nearly a year later – and despite a series of measures aimed at deterring irregular migration – the record number of migrants moving across the Western hemisphere remains a pressing challenge for the US and Mexico.

Migration often ebbs and flows, but in recent weeks, a new surge of migrants fleeing deteriorating conditions at home has overwhelmed already stretched federal and state resources. Former and current Homeland Security officials have warned that the border is nearing a “breaking point.”

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Last week, Biden called his Mexican counterpart as the situation at the US southern border worsened. During the call, the two leaders agreed that additional enforcement actions were “urgently needed” so key ports of entry, which had been suspended to redirect personnel to help process migrants, could be reopened.

The US has historically leaned on Mexico to stem the flow of migrants journeying to the US southern border. But Mexico, like the US, faces similar difficulties as the number of migrants crossing into its country overwhelms its limited resources.

“The Mexicans still have relatively limited capacity,” said Earl Anthony Wayne, former US ambassador to Mexico and public policy fellow at the Wilson Center.

“Their immigration force is underfunded and small. Also, they use the National Guard occasionally to stop people but that’s only good for stopping people for short periods of time and hasn’t seemed to hold up very well. And you still have networks of smugglers,” he added.

Mexican officials are currently contending with thousands of migrants who left Tapachula, located in southern Mexico, on Sunday, making a long trek by foot toward the United States.

Many of the migrants are from Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, Cuba, and Haiti. Caravans, like the one that departed over the weekend, often splinter in the weeks it takes to get to the US southern border, so it’s unclear how many migrants will arrive to the US-Mexico border.

The number of migrants arriving has also been difficult for US authorities to manage because there isn’t enough detention space or repatriation flights for those who don’t qualify for asylum.

Already in northern Mexico, more than 11,000 migrants continue to wait in shelters and camps to cross into the United States, according to community leaders. Many of those migrants are hoping to enter the US through legal pathways established by the Biden administration, such as the CBP One app, which automates scheduling appointments to claim asylum with border authorities, they said.

CNN’s Rosa Flores contributed to this report.

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