By Simon Lewis
PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called for more regional cooperation to help communities strained by inflows of refugees and migrants, as he sought to rally Western Hemisphere nations to tackle record migration.
Addressing foreign ministers from more than 20 nations on Wednesday at a hotel outside of Panama City, Blinken said more people were "on the move, forcibly displaced from their homes" than at any time since World War Two.
"The only lasting, sustainable response to irregular migration is to tackle its root causes, but that takes time, and in the meantime many cities and towns simply don't have the resources they need to provide for their own citizens, much less meet the needs of migrants," Blinken said.
Record numbers of migrants attempted to cross into the United States from Mexico in Joe Biden's first year in office, piling political pressure on the Democratic president. Other countries in the region have taken in migrants from countries like Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti.
Biden has pledged to address the "root causes" that drive those migrants to leave their homes, securing private-sector investments in Central America worth over $1.2 billion and hoping to strike a migration compact at the Ninth Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June.
Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas met with Panamanian officials on Tuesday and signed an agreement detailing commitments to improve management of migration between the two countries and increase access to legal pathways to immigration.
That agreement came after Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica established visa requirements that make it more difficult for Venezuelans and Cubans to transit through their countries toward U.S. territory, and after a similar agreement reached between the United States and Costa Rica last month.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Bill Berkrot)