Several times back in the late spring and summer we posted about the on-again-off-again process of declaring the Central American Northern Triangle countries–El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras–official “safe third” countries.
(A safe third is historically a country an asylum seeker passes through on his way to the country where he wishes to find asylum. By international law and agreements, such countries are considered the default country of asylum, rather than the would-be asylee’s favored destination, and that asylum seeker may be sent to that country for processing. Agreements announced yesterday broaden the definition. See below.)
The Trump administration has endeavored throughout this time to establish Mexico and the Northern Triangle nations as safe thirds, thereby relieving much of the pressure on the U.S. to process the large number of asylum seekers.
On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security posted for public inspection a document outlining newly inked Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs) with the countries involved. Citing a backlog of 987,198 cases for Immigration Review (including
474,327 asylum cases), each of which takes an average of 816 days to complete, the document announces the ACAs just negotiated with the Northern Triangle countries, which account for more than half of the asylum case backlog. That document has now been published on the Federal Register.
In an expansion of the basic “safe third” principle, the new policy will permit asylum seekers presenting themselves at our southern border to be sent to any one of the countries with which an ACA has been arranged, even if he did not pass through it en route to the U.S. border. In each case, the asylum seeker will be given the chance to establish “credible fear” of any country to which he is liable to be sent.
For more, see the Federal Register.