President Biden hosted officials from 11 countries in the Western Hemisphere on Friday for a meeting intended in part to address the historic flow of migrants in the region by bolstering the economies of Mexico, Ecuador, Panama and other countries.
During the two-hour meeting at the White House, Mr. Biden announced new efforts to work with the Inter-American Development Bank to help countries in the region modernize their digital and physical infrastructure and to work with countries to help entrepreneurs start new businesses across the hemisphere.
He also announced initiatives intended to support supply chains across the region in areas like clean energy, semiconductors and medical supplies — helping countries in the Americas lessen their reliance on China and other countries around the globe.
“In each of our countries our people are young, dynamic and diverse, poised to seize the future,” Mr. Biden said at the opening of the meeting in the East Room. “I think they really are. All we need to do is keep going, keep delivering on a positive vision we all share for a region that is secure, prosperous and democratic.”
One goal, according to administration officials, is to help boost the economies of countries across the region so they can better absorb the millions of migrants who are fleeing poverty, political instability and natural disasters.
Dealing with the impact of migration at the border with Mexico has been one of Mr. Biden’s biggest challenges since taking office at the beginning of 2021. Record numbers of migrants have tried to cross into the United States illegally, many from Venezuela and other struggling nations.
Republicans have seized on the issue as one of their primary attacks on Mr. Biden’s administration. They say the president has failed to be tough enough at the border and have accused the White House of putting U.S. national security at risk by not employing harsher measures to stop people from entering the country.
But the president’s struggle to prevent migrants from entering has also created division and anger among Democratic officials in states where the cost of caring for migrants is putting strains on their budgets. Republican governors in Texas and Florida have bused thousands of migrants to cities led by Democrats to highlight the issue.
On Thursday, Democratic mayors from several of the largest cities in the United States traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge White House officials and lawmakers to do more to allow the migrants to work legally in the country.
“All of the newcomers arriving in our cities are looking for the chance to work, and every day we get calls from business leaders who have unfilled jobs and want to hire these newcomers,” the mayors wrote to Mr. Biden. “The only obstacle to us helping them help themselves is federal restrictions on work authorization.”
Last month, Mr. Biden took steps to increase the number of migrants who can work legally in the United States. But White House officials said that the meeting on Friday was an opportunity to work on longer-term efforts that could minimize the number of migrants who try to come to the United States.
Mr. Biden announced the creation of the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity during a summit of the region’s leaders in Los Angeles in the summer of 2022. The members of the Americas Partnership include Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.
White House officials said Mexico and Panama were represented by their foreign ministers on Friday. The leaders of the other nine countries were at the White House.
Several of the countries whose top officials attended the meeting on Friday have already taken in many of the migrants who are fleeing from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti or other struggling economies. One White House official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting before it took place, said Mr. Biden wanted to reward those countries with additional economic help.
The official said that when other countries take in migrants from the region, it lessens the burden on the United States. The goal of the meeting on Friday, the official said, is to help those countries do more of that.
“All across the region, entrepreneurs are ready to break out,” Mr. Biden said. “Investors are changing the way we think. Workers are ready to roll up their sleeves. We are going to make sure they have the skills and the resources they need in order to succeed.”