US, Guatemala sign agreement to restrict asylum cases | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

US, Guatemala sign agreement to restrict asylum cases

Associated Press
1467145_web1_1467145-3ac71ec54fd146a698ccdc8a93ffb913
President Donald Trump, joined by acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, right, shakes hands with Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 26, 2019. Trump announced that Guatemala is signing an agreement to restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
1467145_web1_1467145-a514ade4eced4abe9191a08d0350ef11
A woman holds a poster showing a cartoon image of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales with the word “traitor” ,during a press conference organized by civil society groups in front of the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City, Friday, July 26, 2019. The Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala Friday that will restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
1467145_web1_1467145-6b06108f063d4440b4aaadcdf541f644
People walk along a busy pedestrian street in the historic center of Guatemala City, Friday, July 26, 2019. The Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala Friday that will restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
1467145_web1_1467145-8772876c8b734513873667ffcdc49614
President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 26, 2019. Trump announced that Guatemala is signing an agreement to restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
1467145_web1_1467145-42aaa1118a3e4716979029cd3ea248c4
People walk through the galleries of shops at the central park in Guatemala City, Friday, July 26, 2019. The Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala Friday that will restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
1467145_web1_1467145-4877568436a04c0d80ab909f9fdc3908
President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 26, 2019. Trump announced that Guatemala is signing an agreement to restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala that will restrict asylum applications to the U.S. from Central America.

The “safe third country” agreement would require migrants, including Salvadorans and Hondurans, who cross into Guatemala on their way to the U.S. to apply for protections in Guatemala instead of at the U.S. border. It could potentially ease the crush of migrants overwhelming the U.S. immigration system, although many questions remain about how the agreement will be executed.

President Donald Trump on Friday heralded the concession as a win as he struggles to live up to his campaign promises on immigration.

“This is a very big day,” he said. “We have long been working with Guatemala and now we can do it the right way.”

He claimed that “this landmark agreement will put the coyotes and smugglers out of business.”

The announcement comes after a court in California blocked Trump’s most restrictive asylum effort to date, one that would effectively end protections at the southern border.

The two countries had been negotiating such an agreement for months, and Trump threatened Wednesday to place tariffs or other consequences on Guatemala if it didn’t reach a deal.

“We’ll either do tariffs or we’ll do something. We’re looking at something very severe with respect to Guatemala,” Trump had said.

But on Friday, Trump praised the Guatemalan government, saying now it has “a friend in the United States, instead of an enemy in the United States.”

Trump added that the agreement would protect “the rights of those with legitimate claims,” end “abuse” of the asylum system and curtail the crisis on the U.S. southern border.

He said that as part of the agreement, the U.S. would increase access to the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers from Guatemala.

It’s not clear how the agreement will take effect. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has granted three injunctions preventing its government from entering into a deal without approval of the country’s congress.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said via social media that the agreement allows the country to avoid “drastic sanctions … many of them designed to strongly punish our economy, such as taxes on remittances that our brothers send daily, as well as the imposition of tariffs on our export goods and migratory restrictions.”

Earlier Friday, Morales questioned the concept of a “safe third country.”

“Where does that term exist?” he asked reporters. “It does not exist, it is a colloquial term. No agreement exists that is called ‘safe third country.’”

Human rights prosecutor Jordán Rodas said his team was studying the legality of the agreement and whether Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart had the authority to sign the compact.

Guatemala’s government put out a six-paragraph, Spanish-language statement Friday on Twitter. It does not call the agreement “safe third country” but “Cooperation Agreement for the Assessment of Protection Requests.”

The Guatemalan government said that in coming days its Labor Ministry “will start issuing work visas in the agriculture industry, which will allow Guatemalans to travel legally to the United States, to avoid being victims of criminal organizations, to work temporarily and then return to Guatemala, which will strengthen family unity.”

The same conditions driving Salvadorans and Hondurans to flee their country — gang violence, poverty, joblessness, a prolonged drought that has severely hit crop yields — are also present in Guatemala. Guatemala also lacks resources to adequately house, educate or provide opportunity to potential asylum seekers, observers say.

In Guatemala City, social and student organizations spoke out against the agreement in front of the Constitutional Court, on the grounds that the country is mired in poverty and unemployment and has no capacity to serve migrants. They called for a protest rally Saturday.

Advocacy groups condemned the move Friday, with Amnesty International saying “any attempts to force families and individuals fleeing their home countries to seek safety in Guatemala are outrageous.”

“The Trump administration must abandon this cruel and illegal plan to shut doors to families and individuals trying to rebuild their lives in safety,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, the group’s advocacy director for the Americas.

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said Trump’s decision to sign the agreement was “cruel and immoral.” ”It is also illegal,” he added. “Simply put, Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers, as the law requires.”

Homeland Security officials said they expected the agreement to be ratified in Guatemala and would begin implementing it sometime in August. Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said it was part of a long-standing effort with Guatemala to address migration and combat smuggling. He cautioned against calling the country unsafe for refugees.

“It’s risky to label an entire country as unsafe. We often paint Central America with a very broad brush,” he said. “There are obviously places in Guatemala and in the U.S. that are dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a full and fair process. That’s what the statute is focused on. It doesn’t mean safety from all risks.”

Guatemalans accounted for 34% of Border Patrol arrests on the Mexican border from October to June, more than any other nationality. Hondurans were second at 30%, followed by Mexicans at 18% and Salvadorans at 10%.

Trump was asked if he expected to reach similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador. He replied, “I do indeed.”

Categories: News | World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.