Is Guatemala a New “Safe Third Country”?

We reported on June 8 on what proved to be a premature rumor that the Trump administration had inked a deal with Mexico that that country would agree to function as a “safe third country” where asylum seekers are concerned.  A safe third country, under international asylum law, is any “safe” country that an asylum seeker enters following his departure from his home country. The would-be asylee must claim asylum in the first safe country that he enters, instead of another intended destination such as the United States.

The deal with Mexico’s adoption of safe third country status has since faltered. As Doris Meissner, a former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service,  said recently, “If you’re going to pursue a safe-third-country agreement, you have to be able to say ‘safe’ with a straight face.”

Unable to complete a deal with Mexico, attention has now turned to Guatemala.

If Mexico is too laughable to be considered safe, what hope is there for Guatemala?  As an article in the New Yorker says, “More people are leaving Guatemala now than any other country in the northern triangle of Central America. Rampant poverty, entrenched political corruption, urban crime, and the effects of climate change have made large swaths of the country virtually uninhabitable. ” In addition, many of the gangs that the asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras–the other two countries in the northern triangle–claim to be fleeing, also operate in Guatemala.  At best, if their fears are indeed valid, seeking asylum in Guatemala would involve a leap between frying pans if not actually into the fire.  (Guatemalan asylum hopefuls would be excluded from the deal, as one would imagine.)

Details of the Guatemala agreement are in short supply, but officials familiar with it say it goes beyond the typical safe third country agreement. Under its provisions, the U.S. could send any asylum seeker straight to Guatemala, regardless of whether that would-be asylee has ever set foot there.

The government of Guatemala is terminally corrupt, and this may simply be the Jimmy Morales regime’s way of raking in some U.S. cash before it goes out of power in six months. Moreover, the scheme  may be part of a broader push to persuade Mexico to relent and accept safe status itself.  As reported here on June 17, Mexico evaded a tariff only contingent upon its cooperation with the U.S. on migrant control. More talks are scheduled in the next month. Safe third country status may well be on the table.

For more, see the New Yorker.


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