U.S.-Guatemala Asylum Pact Slams Door to People Escaping Violence

In response to reports that Guatemala may sign a “safe third country agreement” with the United States next week, Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said the following: 

“Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is on his way to Washington to finalize negotiations with President Trump on a safe third country agreement. Because nearly all Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers transit Guatemala before approaching the U.S. border, a safe third country agreement between the United States and Guatemala would enable U.S. officials to force asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras, who transited Guatemala en route, to seek asylum there instead.

“If signed, this agreement would be an egregious violation of law and common decency. It’s a terrible idea which, if implemented, will put the lives of thousands of Central Americans at great risk. It is a violation so serious, that as a former assistant Secretary of State in charge of implementing refugee and migration policies, I took the unusual step of writing a letter to the State Department’s Acting Legal Adviser Marik String, urging he and his office cease involvement in efforts to secure the agreement. Likewise, Guatemalan human rights leaders and former senior government officials have reportedly filed legal actions to block any agreement. 

“This agreement would violate the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and both U.S. and international refugee law, which specify that asylum seekers may only be transported to a place where his or her ‘life or freedom would not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.’ Guatemala is no such place.

“A safe third country agreement with Guatemala would slam shut the door on people seeking to escape violence in parts of Central America and trap them in the very situations they are trying to flee. It should trouble the sleep of all Americans and especially U.S. and Guatemalan government officials who could—and should—speak up against it before it’s too late.”