US agrees to pay for flights, help Panama deport migrants to stop illegal border crossings

The Biden administration has agreed to have the United States help pay for flights and assist the government of Panama in deporting migrants crossing the Darién Gap, in response to the urgent need to prevent illegal crossings at the southern border of the United States.

On Monday the United States and Panama signed a memorandum of understanding during the official visit of the secretary of National Security Alejandro Mayorkas to attend the inauguration of the new president of the country José Raúl Mulino.

Through the agreement, the United States will help cover repatriation costs for migrants who illegally entered Panama through the Darién Gap, a 60-mile stretch of wilderness in Colombia and Panama often used by migrants traveling north to the United States.

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The agreement is “designed to collectively reduce the number of migrants being brutally trafficked through the Darien River, usually on their way to the United States,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said. statement.

“By returning such individuals to their country of origin, we will help deter irregular migration in the region and at our Southern border, and stop the enrichment of malignant smuggling networks that prey on vulnerable migrants,” Watson said.

Last year, the medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported an increase in sexual assaults by migrants trying to enter the United States, suggesting that many of the assaults likely took place inside the Darién Gap.

Like the US State Department announced On Monday, under the initiative, the United States will send officials through the Department of Homeland Security to assist with the asylum screening process and deportations. The State Department will also provide the funds for Panama to improve its ability to deport migrants.

According to the department, the aim of helping the Panamanian government is to reduce the “unprecedented irregular migration through the Darien region”, through which more than 520,000 migrants crossed in 2023.

“Irregular migration is a regional challenge that requires a regional response,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “As the United States continues to secure our borders and remove individuals without a legal basis to remain, we are grateful for our partnership with Panama to manage the historic levels of migration across the Western Hemisphere.”

The State Department works with 21 partners throughout the region, observing the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protectionwhich establishes guidelines for humanitarian migration policies.

The LA Declaration recognized the need for countries to coordinate to address illegal migration, and it represents 22 countries navigating the challenges associated with migration in the current century.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken emphasized in a statement that irregular migration affects several countries, asserting that regions throughout the Western Hemisphere are responsible for dealing with it.

“Through the Los Angeles Declaration, we have taken significant steps to expand legal migration routes as an alternative to irregular migration, to improve enforcement efforts, to support host communities and strengthen protections for members of vulnerable populations,” Blinken stated.

The State Department cited President Joe Biden's executive action last month to temporarily suspend the entry of noncitizens trying to cross the southern border. According to the department, Border Patrol's 7-day encounter average has decreased by more than 40%, and “the DHS has operated more than 120 international repatriation flights to more than 20 countries.”

last month, NBC reported that DHS officials said some illegal migrants are still being released inside the United States to live there while they pursue asylum claims. Some sections of the border are also sending migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to Mexico instead of their home countries despite the administration's promises that the US will deport anyone ineligible for asylum.

The senior DHS official who spoke to the outlet lamented that Border Patrol will continue to release some border crossers into the United States unless it gets more money from Congress for more detention space and deportation flights. However, the official added that these types of releases appear to have decreased somewhat following Biden's executive action.


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