Guatemala has yielded under pressure from the Trump administration, signing an agreement with the United States to serve as a safe-third country for asylum seekers from Central America trying to reach the U.S.
The deal would require that these migrants first seek asylum in Guatemala before continuing to the U.S.-Mexico border. The so-called safe third-country agreement was signed by President Donald Trump, Guatemala’s interior minister, Enrique Degenhart, and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in the Oval Office.
“They can make a protection claim, if they would like, in Guatemala,” McAleenan said. “So, if they arrive in the U.S. not having availed themselves of that opportunity, they will be returned to Guatemala.”
He noted that the agreement will likely take effect sometime next month. Trump stressed that the agreement will help address “the crippling crisis on our border,” The Wall Street Journal reports.
The development follows shortly after a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to halt a rule that would have barred most asylum claims from migrants who had passed through any other country after leaving their home nations.
The ruling put the administration under pressure to strike a deal with Guatemala as soon as possible to prevent Hondurans and Salvadorans from traveling north. McAleenan told reporters Friday that the agreement was “obviously part of a broader relationship with Guatemala.”
The government of Guatemala said the agreement is an attempt to prevent crippling economic sanctions from the U.S. that would have devastated the country’s economy. The U.S. government will expand an agricultural guest-worker program for Guatemalans in return for Guatemala implementing a plan to provide asylum to Honduran and Salvadoran migrants.
The guest-worker program for Guatemalans, allowing them to travel to the United States legally, will also include construction and service-sector workers in subsequent stages.
On Friday, Guatemala’s government posted the terms of the agreement online, under which transportation costs of asylum seekers sent from the U.S. to Guatemala will be arranged and covered by the U.S. Unaccompanied minors are not included in the agreement.
The pact can be renewed after two years and it will be revised every three months, the Journal adds.
“Guatemala is definitely clear on the responsibility that it has. We are clear that we have to make changes, and the way to do it is working together with our best ally,” Degenhart said in the Oval Office.