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Biden meets with Mexico's President to discuss migrant surge, gas prices

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President Joe Biden meets with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico Tuesday at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/31a6acce28961b3163246120394e9566/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
President Joe Biden meets with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico Tuesday at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

July 12 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden welcomed Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to the White House on Tuesday as the two leaders discussed their countries' important bilateral relationship, the migrant surge and rising gas prices.

Following the meeting, the leaders released a joint statement, pledging to work together on immigration, trade and climate concerns.

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"The United States and Mexico affirm our broad and deep cooperation and commitment to building a more prosperous and secure future for the people of North America," they said. "As we face unprecedented global and regional challenges that require the concerted efforts of both our nations, we uphold democracy, inclusive growth, transparency, rule of law, and human rights as core values that underpin our shared security and prosperity."

The meeting underscored the relationship between the United States and Mexico after Lopez Obrador declined an invitation from Biden last month to attend the Summit of the Americas in California.

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"Over the last year and a half, we've devoted our teams to whole-of-government efforts focused on rebuilding the solid framework of the U.S.-Mexico relations," Biden said as he welcomed Lopez Obrador to the White House Tuesday.

"The U.S.-Mexico relationship is vital to achieving our goals of everything from the fight against COVID-19, to continuing to grow our economies, to strengthening our partnerships and addressing migration as a shared hemispheric challenge," Biden said.

The leaders met in the Oval Office where Lopez Obrador urged Biden to "regularize" migrants living and working in the U.S.

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"It is indispensable for us to regularize and give certainty to migrants that have for years lived and worked in a very honest manner, and who are also contributing to the development of this great nation," Lopez Obrador said through a translator.

"In the face of this crisis, the way out is not through conservatism. The way out is through transformation," Lopez Obrador advised. "We have to be bold in our actions. Transform not maintain the status quo."

Tuesday's bilateral meeting comes after another immigration tragedy near the border. Late last month, more than 50 migrants died in Texas after illegally crossing the border in a tractor-trailer. Their bodies were found later near San Antonio.

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Biden brought up the fentanyl crisis and spoke about collaborating to stop human trafficking.

"We need every country in the region to join us in tracking this multi-billion dollar smuggling industry that's preying on our most vulnerable, including the 53 souls who died in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio last month," Biden said.

As the discussion turned toward the war in Ukraine, inflation and soaring gas prices, Lopez Obrador told Biden that Americans are welcome to drive across the border into Mexico to save money at the pump.

"We have decided that it was necessary for us to allow Americans who live close to the border... to go and get their gasoline on the Mexican side at lower prices," Lopez Obrador offered.

"And right now, a lot of drivers, a lot of Americans are going to Mexico to get their gasoline. We are committed to guaranteeing twice as much supply... And right now a gallon of regular costs $4.78 average on the U.S. side of the border and on our territory, $3.12," Lopez Obrador said.

The two leaders wrapped up their comments before their meeting without taking any questions from reporters.

Last month, Biden hosted the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles -- a diplomatic gathering of North, Central and South American leaders. But the event was significant for a number of leaders who did not attend, either because they were not invited or opted not to travel to California.

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As president of Mexico, Lopez Obrador was invited, but declined to attend unless Biden also extended invitations to the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Those leaders were not invited because, the White House said, they head non-democratic regimes.

Vehicles queue at the U.S.-Mexico border separating Tijuana, Mexico, and California on March 21, 2021. File Photo by Ariana Drehsler/UPI

"I am not going to the summit because not all the countries of the Americas are invited," Lopez Obrador said before the summit. "I believe in the need to change the policy that has been imposed for centuries -- exclusions, wanting to dominate for no reason, not respecting the sovereignty of countries.

"I am very sorry not to be able to meet with President Biden because I consider him a good man, but he is under strong pressure from Republicans, extremists and some leaders of the Cuban community in the United States, who have a lot of influence."

Lopez Obrador has also been critical of Biden for providing billions in aid to Ukraine to fight invading Russian forces while ignoring the needs of some Central American nations.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is leading the administration's efforts to focus on the root causes of illegal immigration, met with Lopez Obrador for breakfast on Tuesday before his meeting with Biden.

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Harris visited Lopez Obrador in Mexico a year ago as part of her work to identify immigration problems. On Tuesday, she told the Mexican president that the visit was "special" and underscored the "friendship that has been so important to both nations."

"I congratulate the American people because they have a first order vice president," Lopez Obrador said at the meeting with Harris. "We have always been speaking for the benefit of our peoples and both of our nations. Today, we are going to do exactly the same thing."

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