Nicole Narea, Vox, December 16, 2020
The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it’s ready to implement a controversial international agreement to return asylum seekers arriving on the US-Mexico border back to El Salvador.
The Asylum Cooperative Agreement, signed in September 2019 with the approval of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, is one of three such pacts that the US has made in an effort to discourage regional migration. The other agreements are with Honduras and Guatemala, although only the agreement with Guatemala has gone into effect so far, leading to the deportations of nearly 1,000 Hondurans and Salvadorans.
The asylum-seeker deals resemble “safe third country agreements,” a rarely used diplomatic tool that requires migrants to seek asylum in the countries they pass through by deeming those countries capable of offering them protection. But the Trump administration has been reluctant to use that term, perhaps because the countries it’s dealing with cannot be considered safe. Before President Donald Trump assumed office, the US had this kind of agreement with just one country: Canada.
The agreements are one of many interlocking Trump administration policies that made obtaining asylum impossible for all but a few prior to the pandemic. But since March, the administration has been turning away all asylum seekers arriving on the southern border on the basis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-imposed border restrictions, which have largely replaced those other measures temporarily. (Unaccompanied children were recently excluded from those restrictions by court order, but the Trump administration has continued to expel some of them anyway.)
That means that the fate of the agreements could fall to President-elect Joe Biden. He has vowed to reverse many of Trump’s immigration policies, but the asylum agreements in Central America are notably not among those articulated in his detailed plans for immigration and Central America.
Transition team representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment as to whether Biden would exit from the agreements. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris previously criticized them, writing in a letter signed by her Democratic colleagues in the Senate earlier this year that they are “not only inhumane and potentially illegal” but also “could have serious and detrimental implications for US national security” as a destabilizing factor in Central America.