The Trump Administration is allegedly coming close to closing down a deal to start deporting asylum seekers to Guatemala.
Citing three people with knowledge of the plan, The Washington Post reported that deportations to Guatemala could begin as soon as this week.
The “safe third country” deal would mean that any asylum seekers who pass through Guatemala before making it to the U.S. border could be sent back there, regardless of where they began their journey, under the understanding that Guatemala can offer adequate protection for those seeking refuge.
According to Newsweek, the U.S. government has already struck similar deals with Honduras and El Salvador, but those agreements have yet to be implemented.
Efforts to see Guatemala deemed a “safe” country for asylum seekers to return to have hit a number of snags, with the country’s highest court initially ruling that the deal would require approval from Guatemala’s Congress before moving forward.
A later determination, however, has allowed the plan to proceed without Congressional approval, so long as outgoing President Jimmy Morales is willing to sign off on it.
While Guatemala’s president-elect, Alejandro Giammattei, has spoken out against the agreement, Morales could bring it into effect before leaving office in January. The Guatemalan leader may also feel he has no choice but to sign the deal, given that Trump officials have threatened to once again pull government assistance if the country refuses.
Immigration and human rights advocates have long warned that Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador do not meet the requirements to be considered safe third countries.
“Many of Guatemala’s own citizens are fleeing violence and other failures of state protection in Guatemala to seek refuge in other countries,” states a fact sheet on the issue published by Human Rights First.
Indeed, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as many as 33,000 Guatemalans fled to the U.S. to plead for asylum in 2018 alone.
Meanwhile, a February crime and safety report from the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council asserts that despite a downward trend in violence, “Guatemala remains among the most dangerous countries in the world, according to several security providers.”
“Endemic poverty, an abundance of weapons, a legacy of societal violence, and the presence of organized criminal gangs Barrio 18 (18th Street) and Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) all contribute to the violent crime,” the document states. “Guatemala’s alarmingly high murder rate appears driven by narco-trafficking activity, gang-related violence, a heavily armed population, and police/judicial system unable to hold many criminals accountable.”
“Guatemala does not meet safe third country legal requirements. Guatemala’s tiny asylum system does not have the ability to assess, adjudicate and manage the cases of the many Honduran, Salvadoran, and other asylum seekers that the Trump Administration wants to send there. Refugees returned to Guatemala would also be at grave risk of being sent back to their countries of persecution given deficiencies in the country’s refugee protection system,” Human Rights First says.
Newsweek has contacted the DHS and Guatemalan government for comment.