E.g., 06/25/2024
E.g., 06/25/2024
Translating Principles into Action: Countries Set New Agenda on the Los Angeles Declaration’s Second Anniversary
Governmental leaders at the May 2024 Los Angeles Declaration ministerial meeting in Guatemala
Chuck Kennedy/State Department

On May 6–7, 2024, governments from across the Western Hemisphere met in Guatemala to discuss the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, an agreement on a set of principles for managing the movement of people across the hemisphere in more coordinated, consistent, and effective ways, while trying to build safe, orderly, and regular pathways for mobility. Two years after the declaration was signed, how well are the principles being translated into action? The Guatemala meeting and several side meetings that included both governments and nongovernmental organizations sought to assess the advances so far and to lay out an actionable agenda for the next year.

The meeting took place at a time when migration across the Americas has increased dramatically. Latin American and Caribbean countries saw an almost doubling of the number of migrants living within the region between 2010 and 2022, many of them migrants and refugees displaced from Venezuela, Haiti, Nicaragua, and other countries undergoing significant political, economic, and governance crises. Meanwhile, the number of people reaching the U.S. border has increased dramatically since 2018, totaling almost 1 million border encounters in U.S. fiscal year 2019 and more than 2 million each in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. More than half of recent arrivals at the U.S. border come from countries beyond Central America—some from beyond the hemisphere entirely—and most take journeys that cross multiple countries and usually involve passage through the perilous Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama.

At least three factors help explain this shift. The first is, of course, the sheer pace of displacement crises in the hemisphere, with more than 7.7 million Venezuelans along with hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Nicaraguans having left their countries of origin in the past decade. Most have stayed in other countries within Latin America and the Caribbean, though increasingly some have headed north to the United States and smaller numbers to Canada or Europe. Changes in technology, transportation, and smuggling networks have made longer journeys more possible, with growing numbers of people using social media to navigate lengthy journeys and smugglers building new irregular migration routes, including through the once-impassable Darien.

Shifting demographics have also contributed to the rise in unauthorized migration, as aging populations in some countries generate tight labor markets that attract workers from abroad, perhaps the single greatest driver of migration to the United States. Finally, border management systems, including asylum systems, have become so overwhelmed by rising arrival numbers that they often struggle to make distinctions between those who merit entrance to seek protection or other relief and those who should be returned.

Many countries in the hemisphere are scrambling to redefine their migration policies and build institutional capacity to address these changes. In some countries, especially in Latin America, governments have sought to provide humanitarian protection or other forms of legal status to people who have been displaced. At the same time, others are trying to adjust visa systems, asylum policies, and border management strategies to deal with the larger numbers arriving. In the United States, a bipartisan Senate compromise on how to make modest adjustments on border management and resource them failed to advance in the face of opposition from both the right and left, but a few other countries have been relatively more successful at adapting their policies. These are ultimately sovereign decisions that governments need to make about their own policies, but it has also become increasingly evident that cooperation among states is essential to ensure that more migration takes place in safe, orderly, and regular ways, especially since people often cross multiple borders in a single migration journey.

The Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, issued by 22 governments in June 2022, focuses on four principles for collaboration:

  1. Supporting countries hosting large refugee and displaced populations through innovative financing mechanisms that help them to provide legal status and access to labor markets, schools, health-care systems, and financial institutions, in order to support both newcomers and receiving communities. Governments in the hemisphere have often made notable efforts to do this, but in situations of economic scarcity, they require external support to advance further.

  2. Expanding legal pathways for mobility, including efforts to provide humanitarian protection for those facing displacement and labor opportunities that help match willing workers in one country with labor demand in another. The U.S., Canadian, and Spanish governments have been working together with countries in Central and South America to do this through the Safe Mobility Initiative, which expands refugee resettlement for certain groups in need of humanitarian protection, while also expanding existing work-based visas and other legal pathways, such as the United States’ Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan (CHNV) parole program to provide legal entry and work permits to sponsored nationals of select countries facing crisis. Meanwhile, several regional groupings of countries in the hemisphere, including Mercosur and the Andean Community (both in South America) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), have made it possible for people to move among participating countries with greater ease, including for periods of residence and work.

  3. Coordinating migration policies among countries to build humane and effective migration controls, including efforts to tackle smuggling networks, adjust visa policies, and support people returned to countries of origin. There have been ongoing efforts to refine visa policies and disrupt long-distance smuggling networks, though the latter has often been hampered by the rapidly changing nature of these networks, which adjust quickly to changes on the ground.

  4. Providing coordinated responses to emergencies, including major displacement crises and large-scale migration. Countries in the hemisphere have been fairly coordinated on the response to Venezuelan displacement through the Quito Process, which brings together major host governments, and the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), which is led by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and brings together donor and host governments, international and domestic civil-society organizations, and the UN system. It has proved far more challenging to respond in a coordinated way to the growing number of people crossing the Darién and heading north, who come from dozens of different countries and have far more diverse reasons for migrating.

The Guatemala meeting on the Los Angeles Declaration earlier this month sought to analyze the state of cooperation in the hemisphere. Attending were the U.S. secretary of state and deputy secretary of homeland security; the foreign ministers of Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, and other countries; the deputy minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada; and other senior representatives of governments that are signatories to the declaration.

Governments made a few important announcements during the ministerial meeting, but there was also a series of official side meetings that sought to do problem-solving around the declaration’s four principles. In these side meetings, governments, civil-society organizations, migrant and refugee-led organizations, international financial institutions, private-sector actors, foundations, and researchers worked together to produce an agenda for practical action for the next year. Some of the items that lend themselves to specific efforts include:

  1. Innovative approaches for developing international financial instruments that could facilitate greater investment in the integration of displaced populations within host societies in the hemisphere.

  2. Understanding how to measure progress on integrating displaced populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, including in terms of access to labor markets, schools, health-care systems, and financial institutions.

  3. An agenda for expanding regular pathways for mobility that both recognize changing labor market dynamics in (and beyond) the hemisphere and respond to the humanitarian protection needs of certain populations.

  4. Coordinated efforts that address smuggling and build fair, humane, and effective migration controls.

  5. Emergency measures to respond to the large numbers of people crossing the Darien jungle.

The hope is that by the next ministerial meeting in a year or so, tangible coordination efforts will have advanced and it will be possible to monitor practical progress towards the declaration’s principles.

Not all of these efforts will take place under the aegis of the declaration, even if they echo its principles, since there are other important cooperation mechanisms in the hemisphere. During the meetings, for example, the Mexican and Colombian governments announced a joint effort with IOM to focus on regular pathways for mobility, with an initial meeting in June, while the Chilean government and UNHCR highlighted the work of the Cartagena+40 Process, which focuses on humanitarian protection policies for refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, the government of Ecuador and the World Bank launched an ambitious effort to reimagine international cooperation and development financing for displaced populations and host communities. And several Caribbean nations called attention to their ongoing negotiations to strengthen mobility among CARICOM countries, which would create a flexible arrangement for skills mobility.

Hemispheric cooperation is no substitute for fair, consistent, and effective domestic policies on immigration and displacement. However, in an era when cross-border mobility is increasing dramatically in the Americas, tied to changing labor market dynamics, displacement crises, and technology, domestic policies alone will never be sufficient. Cooperation will only become more vital to building a future in which people move through channels that are safe, orderly, and regular, and in which migration is an option rather than a necessity.