US President Joe Biden and his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador met in Washington on Tuesday and sought to move past a recent diplomatic spat by agreeing to increase co-operation on border security and work together to counter inflation.
Mr Biden welcomed Mr Lopez Obrador for their second meeting at the White House, a month after the Mexican president snubbed the US-hosted Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles over concerns that several countries including Venezuela and Cuba had not been invited.
The two leaders attempted to set aside their differences and frustrations over unauthorised migration on the southern border and record detentions of Mexican citizens.
Mr Lopez Obrador called for the US, which has a worker shortage, to issue more visas for skilled Mexican and Central American workers “to support” the American labour force.
“It is indispensable for us to regulate and give certainty to migrants who, for years, have lived and worked in a very honest manner and are also contributing to the development of this great nation,” he said.
Mr Biden is under pressure from Republicans to do more to curb illegal migration, a point the Mexican leader noted.
“I know your adversaries, the conservatives, are going to be screaming all over the place … but without a bold [immigration] programme, it will not be possible to solve problems,” he said.
Tension between the US and Mexico has been exacerbated over the past several years due to increased levels of migration. This year, Mexico recorded an annual increase of 89 per cent in the number of migrants processed by its immigration agency, El Financiero reported.
And Human Rights Watch said that Mexico apprehended more than 300,000 migrants last year — the highest number on record — and received asylum requests from about 130,000, nearly overwhelming the country's asylum system.
The US president welcomed more co-operation on migration, calling Mexico “an equal partner” in the relationship. He said solutions to the border issue must partly be tackled by “addressing migration as a shared hemispheric challenge”.
During the meeting, Mr Biden brushed aside the summit boycott and played down any tension.
“Despite the overhyped headlines that we sometimes see, you and I have a strong, productive relationship,” he said.
Mr Biden welcomed the idea of more visa pathways for Mexican workers and more infrastructure modernisation projects on the 3,145-kilometre border with Mexico.
Mr Lopez Obrador suggested a possible suspension of tariffs and regulations between the two countries and floated a joint public-private investment plan to produce more goods.
The Mexican president also met US Vice President Kamala Harris at her residence, calling her “our friend but also a woman with principles, an intelligent woman, [and] honest”.
US officials said that delegations will announce a working group to promote more avenues for legal migration by workers by the end of the visit.
Earlier on Tuesday, first lady Jill Biden apologised for comments that appeared to compare Latinos to breakfast tacos at a Hispanic conference in San Antonio, Texas.