U.S. pledges more visas for Cubans, Haitians at Summit of the Americas

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FILE PHOTO: Biden hosts a dinner at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles

By Daina Beth Solomon and Ted Hesson

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration will spend $314 million to support Venezuelan migrants across the Western Hemisphere and restart programs allowing some Cubans and Haitians to reunite with family members in the United States, U.S. agencies announced on Friday.

The announcement was part of a push at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles to address migration challenges, particularly in the United States, where the number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has hit record highs.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders attending the summit are set to issue a declaration on Friday that will pledge a more cooperative approach to migration.

The Democratic president has sought to frame migration as a challenge throughout the hemisphere and not an issue exclusive to the border with Mexico.

Republicans, who aim to regain control of the U.S. Congress in midterm elections in November, have sharply criticized Biden for reversing some of the restrictive policies of his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and sought to frame the situation at the border as a crisis.

At the summit, the Biden administration has called on governments in the Americas to strengthen protections for migrants but also to enforce borders and deport people who do not qualify for asylum.

A senior U.S. official told reporters late on Thursday said that the United States and other countries would set out "concrete commitments," and will "expect that all countries do their part."

Alongside the declaration, the United States announced several programs aimed at increasing legal migration pathways and supporting migrants abroad. The pledges included bolstering U.S. hiring of temporary workers from Central America.

The U.S. funding commitment to support Venezuelan migrants will include $171 million in humanitarian relief and emergency food for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

The Biden administration also will restart programs that allow certain U.S. citizens and permanent residents to apply to bring their relatives in Cuba and Haiti to the United States via a temporary status known as humanitarian parole, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

The Biden administration on Friday also highlighted what it calls "unprecedented" efforts launched in April to disrupt human smuggling networks and a regulation implemented in late May that aims to speed up the processing of asylum seekers at its border with Mexico.

At the same time, Biden is asking other governments to strengthen their asylum systems and remove people who do not qualify.

"We will continue to provide support to countries that are really making a strong effort to build their asylum capacity," said the U.S. official briefing reporters on the summit declaration, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States wants the measures to help ease labor shortages in the United States while also reducing illegal immigration.

While the Biden administration touted the summit this week as a major opportunity to reach regional agreements on migration, leaders from Mexico and other countries that send many migrants north did not attend, raising questions about the effectiveness of any mutual declaration. The Biden administration has rejected that suggestion.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Trevor Hunnicutt in Los Angeles, and Ted Hesson in Washington; editing by Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Oatis)

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