Analysis | Toward hemispheric migration governance: The Los Angeles Declaration

A historic international agreement on migration cooperation in the Americas

Kyilah M. Terry

On June 6–10, 2022, heads of state from 20 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas.
On June 6–10, 2022, heads of state from 20 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas. (Image: OEA-OAS on Flickr)

In response to overlapping crises in Latin America, President Joseph Biden welcomed heads of state from 20 countries across the region to the Summit of Americas earlier this month to announce the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection. The event was not without controversy: Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba were notably not invited while Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were absent. However, the declaration was nevertheless noteworthy: it affirms the signatories’ commitment to responsibility sharing and economic cooperation through four main pillars: stability and assistance for communities, expansion of legal pathways for migration, humane border management, and coordinated emergency responses.

Through the declaration, governments made major commitments to expand temporary worker programs in response to labor shortages, reinforce legal channels for refugee resettlement and family reunification, start a campaign to disrupt and dismantle human smuggling networks across Latin America, and, finally, help the people of Haiti weather the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in the country. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi refers to the declaration as “a continent-wide coordinated response based on the principles of international cooperation, solidarity and respect for human rights.” This makes the Los Angeles declaration historic and marks an important step forward toward greater cooperation to solve hemispheric problems.

Throughout the Western Hemisphere, violence, economic instability, food insecurity, and environmental distress complicate existing underlying and structural factors, such as poverty and gender dynamics, forcing migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people alike to seek safety and protection. As of September 2021, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified more than 6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad due to conflict, most of whom are hosted in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, and Brazil. Meanwhile, hurricanes Eta and Iota hit several Central American countries, causing widespread devastation across Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. This natural disaster adds another ground for humanitarian intervention.

While on paper these countries have reiterated their efforts to create conditions for safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration, human and refugee rights advocates are concerned about how this will unfold practically. The main question is how the United States will ensure that the declaration’s signatories follow through on the commitments in the non-binding agreement, including its own government. In other words, how are the initiatives laid out in the four pillars going to be enforced to ensure follow through?

Additionally, despite the wide scope of the commitments, the declaration overlooks the plights and subsequent displacement of marginalized communities such as women, children, indigenous groups, and the LGBTQI+ community. While there is encouraging progress in the region’s fight for gender equality, 27 percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, and gender minorities still enjoy fewer legal protections. Further, Black and Indigenous people suffer from social exclusion, namely disproportionate poverty, unemployment, labor market discrimination, and poor access to basic social services. The declaration does not specifically address the needs and concerns of these marginalized groups.

Meanwhile, migrant workers in the United States, especially those who are undocumented, are often subject to abuse from employers, and the temporary work visa programs under consideration in the declaration will not necessarily resolve this problem. The Biden administration is also contending with courts on holdover policies from the Trump administration such as the Migrant Protection Protocols, colloquially known as the Remain in Mexico Policy, as well as a public health measure known as Title 42. Both policies deny asylum seekers their rights by facilitating their expulsion, deportation, and detainment.

Despite the lack of clarity on implementation, the recognition of the need for a hemispheric approach to migration is a significant step toward effectively managing migration across the region. LAC countries have historically cooperated on migration and have signed several significant multilateral migration agreements in the past, including Mercosur, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, but none have directly involved the United States or Canada. However, this declaration is only a first step; regional leaders must continue to work together to create a harmonized and sustainable approach to migration policy, and the absent countries must be included. If this declaration is successful, multilateral cooperation in the region will result in economic stability for LAC countries, and the United States will find itself a reliable partner in expanding legal pathways for migrants, combating climate change, and tackling human smuggling networks.

Kyilah M. Terry is a contributing writer for The Diplomatic Pouch. She graduated in May 2021 with an M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, with a focus on forced displacement, European migration policy, and U.S. refugee law. She also received a Certificate in Diplomatic Studies and a Certificate in Refugees and Humanitarian Emergencies. Currently, she serves as a U.S. Congressional fellow with the Vice President’s Office, a Government Relations fellow with Oxfam America, and a U.S. Institute of Peace research analyst. She writes here in a personal capacity.

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