Vivian Salama and Juan Montes, Wall Street Journal, Jul 23, 2019
President Trump threatened to punish Guatemala for what he described as the country’s reneging on a proposed deal to welcome Central American asylum seekers.
Mr. Trump said on Twitter Tuesday that the U.S. had been “ready to go” but was now considering tariffs, remittance fees and an unspecified “BAN.”
Last year, Guatemalans living outside the country sent more than $9 billion home, making up about 12% of Guatemala’s gross domestic product.
“Guatemala, which has been forming Caravans and sending large numbers of people, some with criminal records, to the United States, has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales canceled a trip to Washington this month for discussions on a deal that would have required migrants from El Salvador and Honduras to seek asylum there rather than in the U.S.
For several months, Mr. Morales’s government had been negotiating the possibility of designating Guatemala a safe third country for asylum seekers. But he called off the planned meeting with Mr. Trump after Guatemala’s top court blocked him from signing such a deal amid growing concerns that the Central American country is unprepared to absorb the influx of migrants.
Mr. Morales on Tuesday blamed the Constitutional Court for prompting Mr. Trump’s threats against Guatemala, saying it illegally interfered in the country’s foreign policy.
Despite Mr. Trump’s remarks Tuesday, ministers and security secretaries from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are due to meet with U.S. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in Washington on Wednesday.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the region, and its murder rate is four times that of the U.S. Critics of a safe-third-country agreement say it is ill-equipped to serve as a haven for the thousands of Salvadorans and Hondurans fleeing violence. Opponents of the deal in Guatemala are preparing legal challenges should Mr. Morales sign an agreement with the U.S.
Washington has been in negotiations with countries across the region about a safe-third-country approach to asylum, under which the U.S. could deport migrants to the first safe country in which they arrived after fleeing their homelands. The U.S. has a safe-third-country agreement only with Canada, which it signed in 2004.
Such an agreement with Guatemala would fit into Mr. Trump’s broader strategy to overhaul the region’s asylum rules to stem the unprecedented flow of Central American migrants, mostly traveling in families, arriving at the southern U.S. border.
Last week, the Trump administration moved to sharply limit Central American migrants’ ability to seek asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico, announcing that, with limited exceptions, migrants who pass through another country first must seek asylum there rather than at the U.S. border, where they will be ineligible to do so. The vast majority of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border come from Central America, passing through Mexico, and in some cases Guatemala, first.