And Now, Once Again: Is Guatemala a Safe Third Country?

By now we’ve all grown accustomed to the on-again-off-again character of President Trump’s policies, in particular his foreign policy.  In this space, on July 13, we announced that Guatemala would accept “safe third country” status, indicating that any asylum seekers passing through that country would have to apply for asylum there, instead of another destination, such as the United States.

Then, on July 23, word was out that the deal was off.  The Guatemalan high court had issued injunctions prohibiting the Jimmy Morales government from proceeding with the agreement without the approval of the legislature, which is on vacation.  That produced a minor tweetstorm from an unhappy Trump, who threatened a travel ban, tariffs, and a variety of potential responses if Guatemala continued to renege on the deal.

Then, yesterday, July 26, came a new  announcement:  Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart was in the Oval Office preparing to sign an agreement with acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.  The Guatemalan government tweeted a confirmation (in Spanish), but called the agreement “Cooperation Agreement for the Assessment of Protection Requests.” It did not use the expression “safe third country.”  U.S. officials, however, did.

No details were released by either government.  Although McAleenan said he believed it could be in place sometime in August, legal challenges will almost certainly be brought in both countries. For example, there are already the existing injunctions against the deal from Guatemala’s high court.

Another possible concern for American immigration restrictionists is a statement issued by Guatemala to the effect that Friday’s deal would allow its citizens to apply for temporary visas to work in the U.S. agricultural sector, and in the medium- to long-term, would allow for work visas for the construction and service sectors.

Trump seemed to confirm that statement by saying, in regard to the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers, “We are going to make that a much easier, less cumbersome program.”

Opponents of the agreement say flatly that Guatemala is simply not safe.  It is, after all, the largest exporter of asylum seekers to the U.S. (34 percent),  and Guatemalan asylum seekers will not be affected by this agreement.  Acting Secretary McAleenan, who has recently returned from a visit,  said, “It’s risky to label an entire country as unsafe.  We often paint Central America with a very broad brush. 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.”

On the subject of safety, in a separate announcement on Friday, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)  issued a memorandum to  U.S. asylum officers instructing them to consider whether “internal relocation” within migrants’ home countries was an option to asylum.  The memo reads, in part:

“Many of the cases arising at the Southern border are cases of individuals that are willing to engage in costly and dangerous international travel – neither of which would be necessary if they sought refuge within their home country, particularly given the fact that there are areas that are generally very safe within each of the countries that currently make up the bulk of our credible fear cases. Asylum officers should be eliciting testimony to determine if the alien attempted to internally relocate to any safe areas prior to the alien’s travel to the United States.”

Much of the on-again-off-again nature of President Trump’s policies results from his tenacity in getting a deal.  While other, less determined administrations might simply have an “off-for-good” policy, Trump keeps working.  Good for him.

For more, see the NY Post.

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