President Joe Biden met his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico City on Monday for talks expected to be dominated by a regional migration and drug smuggling crisis.
Biden is visiting the Latin American nation for the first time as president, seeking closer security and economic ties with Lopez Obrador, who gave him a warm welcome at the presidential palace.
Biden was due to hold a series of meetings Monday and Tuesday with Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau one-on-one and also together in what is dubbed the "Three Amigos" summit.
While trade and environmental issues are also on the table, Biden has put a surge in irregular migration and dangerous drug trafficking at the front and center of his trip.
Biden "is looking to dive deep on a set of issues that are priorities for his administration, including continued close coordination on migration questions," White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters.
"We also will spend a considerable amount of time... on how we can enhance and elevate our cooperation on fentanyl," he added, referring to the often-deadly opioid smuggled across the border by Mexican drug cartels.
Lopez Obrador, who joined Biden in his armored limousine for the journey from the airport, called for increased investment in the region so that people are less likely to flee their countries and try to reach the US.
"Opportunities must be guaranteed to citizens, to workers of all countries in their places of origin," he told reporters.
- 'Where are our rights?' -
On his way to Mexico, Biden made a politically charged visit to the southern US border for the first time as president.
He stopped for several hours in the border city of El Paso, Texas, meeting with US officials and inspecting a section of the tall fencing that snakes along the frontier.
"They need a lot of resources. We're going to get it for them," Biden told reporters after his visit to a customs post.
Just ahead of Biden's arrival in Mexico, a line of migrants, some with children in their arms, were deported from El Paso to Ciudad Juarez.
Venezuelan Jose David Melendez told AFP that he had been apprehended by border guards at a church where he was taking refuge.
"The police officers from the border patrol came and hit us, made us run, pointed guns at us, pointed at children with firearms. Where are our human rights?" the 25-year-old said.
On Thursday Biden announced an expansion of powers to expel people showing up at the border without clearance.
At the same time, a legal, strictly enforced pathway will be created for up to 30,000 migrants a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Asked whether the quota could be increased, Sullivan said Washington wanted to see how the changes unfold, adding: "I don't think we have a fixed number in mind."
- Handshakes and hugs -
Lopez Obrador and his wife Beatriz Gutierrez greeted the US president and Jill Biden at the National Palace for a welcome ceremony notable for its smiles, enthusiastic handshakes and even hugs.
The two presidents left the public speaking before their meeting to the first wives, who delivered a joint message in English and Spanish emphasizing the two countries' shared values.
"We believe that freedom of faith, speech and the press is the foundation of democracy, and that the voice of the people is powerful," Jill Biden said.
"We reject all forms of xenophobia, racism, discrimination and classism, and dare to dream of a time where all are equal and free," she said.
In 2021, the United States and Mexico announced a revamp of their fight against drug trafficking to address the root causes of migration, encourage economic development and bolster curbs against cross-border arms smuggling.
Mexico is plagued by cartel-related bloodshed that has seen more than 340,000 people murdered since the government deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.
Days before Biden's visit, Mexican security forces captured a son of notorious drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is serving a life sentence at a US prison.
Climate change and cooperation in clean energy technologies will also be on the summit agenda, with Mexico hoping to benefit from Washington's efforts to reduce its reliance on Asia-based manufacturers.