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President Biden hosted President Rodrigo Chaves of Costa Rica at the White House on Tuesday as their countries try to rein in a surge of migration in the Western Hemisphere.
The two leaders also discussed trade and efforts to crack down on organized crime.
“What I’ve found with you, Mr. President, is we’re united by the vision we share,” Mr. Biden told Mr. Chaves in the Oval Office. “A vision for future greater opportunity for freedom and equality and, quite frankly, dignity for all of our people.”
Mr. Biden thanked Mr. Chaves, who was elected last year, for his leadership “on migration challenges we face every single day.”
The Biden administration’s plan to stem illegal migration in the United States involves cracking down on asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border while working with Central American nations, like Costa Rica, to develop ways for migrants to apply for protection closer to their home countries.
After the meeting, the White House announced that the State Department would send more than $12 million through international partners to Costa Rica to help the nation address migration. The administration also plans to send Costa Rica up to $24 million to improve policing and expand crime prevention programs.
Costa Rica recently agreed to build two centers where migrants can be processed for such legal protections without crossing the border. About 38,000 migrants from Colombia, Costa Rica and Guatemala have registered for legal protection through the program. More than 2,000 of those applicants have been referred to the U.S. refugee program.
Mr. Chaves is hoping the sites will relieve pressure on his nation’s asylum system as well. Costa Rica, a popular tourist destination, has struggled to handle the number of migrants fleeing violence in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
More than 270,000 migrants were in Costa Rica seeking protection by the end of 2022, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As the nation struggled with the surge, Mr. Chaves enacted various restrictions on the nation’s asylum system, including a 30-day time limit for migrants to apply for asylum as well as stringent rules for issuing work permits.
The number of illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border increased in July after a sharp drop the previous month. The more than 99,500 crossings in June was a 42 percent drop from May, which the Biden administration attributed to a new asylum rule that set a higher bar for a migrant to be eligible to apply for asylum in the United States. Crossings, however, increased to more than 132,000 in July.
The White House considers Costa Rica one of the strongest democracies in a region that has slipped toward authoritarianism in recent years. Mr. Chaves, who promised to upend the Latin American political establishment and big business, attended Mr. Biden’s Summit of the Americas, which was snubbed by other key nations in the region, an appearance Mr. Biden brought up on Tuesday. Mr. Biden also hosted a summit for democracy in March with leaders from the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.
“I agree fully with your vision, the vision of the people of this great country,” Mr. Chaves told Mr. Biden. “Where prosperity should be shared widely.”
But Mr. Chaves has also initiated attacks against journalists investigating accusations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct, using executive powers to restrict their outlets of revenue. During his campaign last year, he also tried to minimize a World Bank investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.
But during their meeting, which lasted a little more than an hour, the two leaders showed a united front on economic, security and migration issues.
“I can affirm to you, Mr. President, that Costa Rica has been and shall remain one of the strongest allies in the world regarding your economic and security interests,” Mr. Chaves told Mr. Biden.