September 29, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas Opening Remarks at the Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection Reception

21 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Panama City, Panama

Ministry of Foreign Affairs

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you very much.  Good evening, everyone.  It is wonderful to be with so many colleagues in this extraordinary setting with this extraordinary history, as Erika was just describing it to us.  I very much want to thank President Cortizo, my friend the foreign minister, the people of Panama, for so generously hosting us for this week’s Ministerial Conference on Migration and Protection.  And a special note of gratitude to Panama, to you, Erika, for all the work that you’ve been doing to bring all of us together in what has to be a shared responsibility.

I am joined here by my friend and colleague, Ale Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security of the United States.  We’re both so eager to discuss with our fellow ministers the urgent migration challenges that we’re facing.  No two countries experience them in the same way.  All of us bring our own concerns to this discussion but also this sense of shared responsibility to meet the migration challenge throughout our region.  And we’re very much looking forward to hearing and sharing specific experiences and specific solutions.

This issue is a priority for the United States.  We have a strong interest in protecting the security of our borders in a safe, orderly, and humane way.  We care about the well-being of millions of people across the hemisphere who have made the desperate decision to leave their homes and communities in search of a better life.  The journeys are often dangerous.  Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds.  Many are children, and their fates, their futures, are highly uncertain.  We have a responsibility, a shared responsibility, to look out for them.

Like you, we’re concerned about the rising tensions in communities across the region that have become home to huge numbers of migrants and are now pushed to the brink, unable to meet people’s needs, whether they’re migrants or their own citizens.  And we’re focused on the underlying issues that are pushing so many people to become migrants in the first place, including poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, corruption, political upheaval, insecurity – all of which has been made worse by the climate crisis and, of course, by COVID-19.

So I think what we have all come to understand, the common realization that I think is shared with everyone in this room, is that no one country can meet these challenges or solve them alone.  The United States is committed to working in partnership with all of you across every dimension of this issue from taking on migrant smuggling networks, to improving humane and effective border management, to countering misinformation, to developing legal pathways for immigrants and refugees seeking a safe place to call home.

In particular, we have to work together to help stabilize and strengthen communities that are hosting large populations of migrants.  We have to help them get the tools that they need to rebuild their lives, including access to jobs and education.  And we have to make sure that our support directly benefits the communities themselves with increased resources for public health and safety, social services, better infrastructure, opportunity for everyone.

So this has to be a job for all of us, for our governments, doing it together.  But it’s also a job for the international community writ large – NGOs, multilateral development and financial institutions, regional and global public health and climate agencies.  The United States will help bring together these different groups and leverage all of their contributions to this challenge.

I have to tell you I’m very glad to see here tonight and tomorrow as we meet representatives from key organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF.  Institutions like these were created to help us meet challenges too great for even our countries together to solve, which is exactly what we’re called on to do now on behalf of the region’s most vulnerable people.  And to those agencies and organizations that have already given and implemented assistance, thank you.

I know that we’ll do good work together here in Panama.  We have to.  And I hope that the additional momentum that we build here, complemented by what we did in Colombia – and my deep appreciation to our colleagues from Colombia for bringing us together some months ago – all of that needs to carry forward in concrete, practical ways.

In June, many of us will come together again in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas that President Biden will be hosting.  There we’ll have an opportunity to address the deeper concerns that drive irregular migration by strengthening our democracies, fighting corruption, building resilience in our health care systems, promoting more equitable economic growth, combating the climate crisis.  All of these things in their own ways have an impact on the challenge that we are coming together here tonight and tomorrow to deal with.

President Biden set a goal for the summit that our countries adopt a declaration on migration and protection that sets forth shared principles for a collaborative, coordinated response to migration and forced displacement.  So I hope our discussions here today and tomorrow in Panama will contribute to a strong declaration by our leaders when they gather in California in just a few weeks’ time.

So, simply put, to each and every one of you, thank you for your leadership at what is a critical moment.  Erika said it very well.  There is – we have a regional challenge, a hemispheric challenge, but it’s also a global challenge.  There are now around the world more people on the move, displaced from their homes, than at any time since the Second World War, some 95 million people.  By definition, this is a challenge that we have to stand together to meet, work together to meet, join together to meet.

With that, it is my pleasure to introduce my friend and colleague, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY MAYORKAS:  Thank you and good evening.  My thanks to President Cortizo, Ministers Mouynes and Pino, for welcoming us to this beautiful country.  Earlier today I visited the Panama Canal, and it was a very uplifting visit.  I did so with my colleague and great friend, Tony Blinken.  And the canal represents the promise of economic prosperity and the hope for advancement, and not just today but in the days to come.

Yesterday I had a very different visit.  Minister Pino so generously gave of his time to show my colleagues and me the Darién region and to pass over the treacherous land that the most vulnerable people try to pass in the hope of a better future.  It is very difficult to see that land and to understand the depths and breadth of the treachery that vulnerable individuals seek to cross with the hope of a better life.

I remember a father of a friend of mine growing up who grew up in very difficult circumstances once said that one’s – when one’s back is up against the wall, the only direction one can move in is forward.  And it is our obligation collectively to close the divide between the promise of economic prosperity that the canal represents and the vulnerability that the Darién region represents for so many who seek a better life.  And I want to thank the ministers for bringing us all together to work on an effort that requires a collective response, because the movement of people in the Western Hemisphere, and frankly in other parts of the world, is not the challenge of one country or two; it is the challenge of the region and of the hemisphere of which we are a part.  And we must take a look at the individuals who are vulnerable as members of our community, and we must deliver a response of and by the community.

The most enduring way in which we can address this challenge which has been with us for far too many years is to deliver stabilization, to deliver for the people in their homes the promise that the canal represents, and allow them to understand and actually realize that they do not need to leave their homes to experience the promise that so many of us here represent and are obligated to deliver to others.

At the same time, as we work on that most enduring solution of addressing the cause for migration, we must also extend a hand, an outstretched hand, of humanitarian relief to those who are already outside of their homes to be able to provide them with the promise of that prosperity wherever they might be so that the dangers of the journey that they once anticipated ahead of them they need no longer take.  The promise of humanitarian relief and the stability of settlement and integration, as well as an understanding that the laws that guide our extension of humanitarian relief must be honored, and for those who do not qualify we must apply those laws equally.

These issues and the lines that draw – are drawn between the relief and the response that we must impose when that relief is not warranted are very, very difficult to draw.  They are very difficult decisions, but we as leaders in our respective countries, and together as leaders of a community throughout a region and a hemisphere, are obligated to make those difficult decisions, and that is what makes this convening so very important – bringing us together to make those difficult decisions in partnership and in friendship with one another so that we can deliver the promise of a better future to those who do not see it and so that we can accept this responsibility in a shared and, therefore, most effective way.

I thank you all so very much.  I look forward to our very important conversations tomorrow.  And again, my thanks to our wonderful hosts here in this beautiful country of Panama.  Gracias.  (Applause.)

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