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The biggest and most complicated topic at the Summit of the Americas? Migration

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Migration tops the list of issues being discussed at this week's Summit of the Americas. The gathering begins tomorrow in Los Angeles. President Biden says he plans to unveil a, quote, "unprecedented and ambitious" plan to solve the region's migration crisis. But many of the hemisphere's key leaders are boycotting the summit. And without their support, it's unclear whether Biden's plan will make any difference. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Los Angeles.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Who's coming and who's not has dominated the news about the Summit of the Americas for weeks. The U.S. refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela, angering many in the Americas. Mexico's president said without everyone welcome, he wouldn't go. And many other leaders followed suit. In all, 23 heads of states RSVP'd.

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KAHN: But for 42-year-old microbiologist Ana Morazon, the controversy over who got an invite and who didn't isn't important. She just wants these leaders to get to work.

ANA MORAZON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Only those who have walked on this path know how difficult it is to go hungry, not have water, be so far from your home," she says. Morazon is talking to me outside a migrant shelter in Tijuana, just 150 miles from where the summit is taking place in downtown Los Angeles. She left Honduras after back-to-back hurricanes destroyed her home almost two years ago, and she says gangs threatened her.

MORAZON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says, traveling through Mexico, she was kidnapped and robbed. She says she's been waiting in Tijuana, just south of San Diego, to ask for asylum for months. Leaders of the region have to do more to help migrants in need, she says.

That's what the Biden administration says they're doing. On Friday, leaders will sign what they say is a bold declaration to support countries impacted by migration. Pastor Albert Rivera is skeptical.

ALBERT RIVERA: If they come from Cuba, they come from El Salvador, Nicaragua and everything, these other Latin American countries, they say, you can't go through my territory. I'm not allowing you in.

KAHN: The pastor runs a shelter in Tijuana packed with migrants from all over the world. He watched in dismay earlier this year as Ukrainians by the hundreds came to Mexico and were ushered quickly into the U.S. He wants Latin America to be more unified like European countries. Vice President Kamala Harris is announcing more than $3 billion she says private industry will contribute for economic development in Central America so people can stay at home and not migrate in the first place.

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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Kamala Harris.

KAHN: Yesterday in Los Angeles, Harris toured exhibits showing off work by several women's groups in Mexico and Central America. She's been tasked by President Biden to focus on Central America and has traveled several times to the region...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: ...Like last year's presidential inauguration of Xiomara Castro in Honduras. Castro, like the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, have boycotted the summit. They objected to the Biden administration's refusal to invite anti-democratic leaders. Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue says those leaders are using that as an excuse to not attend the conference.

MANUEL OROZCO: The absence of the president signifies that they are not prepared to be held accountable as to why people are migrating.

KAHN: He says the Biden administration needs to not only tackle migration at the root causes with investment in Central America, but also to hold these countries accountable for their corruption and lack of democracy that forces migrants to flee in the first place. Alvaro Botero, the head of refugee and migration at the Organization of American States, says he is glad the migration declaration is being signed at the summit, but the real test is how that is put to work.

ALVARO BOTERO: That will require a lot of leadership.

KAHN: And back at the border, Ana Morazon, the microbiologist from Honduras, says she knows that's hard to find.

MORAZON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "And as they say in my country," she says, "it's not like everyone is looking out for the welfare of others; it's everyone for themselves."

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.