Statement by Refugees International President Eric Schwartz in response to reports that the Trump Administration is pressuring Guatemala to sign a “safe third country” agreement.
In a tweet on Monday, President Trump confirmed that his White House is intent on forcing asylum seekers appearing at U.S. borders to be sent to Guatemala if they have transited Guatemala on route to the United States. The White House plan to secure Guatemala’s agreement to this arrangement is an astonishing distortion of U.S. law on asylum that could put thousands at grave risk. Guatemala is facing a crisis of governance and many of its own people are fleeing gangs and sexual violence, among other dangers. It is unconscionable and inhumane for the United States of America to force Guatemala to agree to being a ‘safe third country,’ and, thus, a haven for Central American asylum seekers when, in truth, it is nothing of the sort.
The U.S. State Department itself advisesagainst traveling in Guatemala because it is unsafe and lacks effective rule of law, and Guatemala has no capacity to provide adequate facilities or safety for thousands Central Americans who might be forced into to the country by U.S. officials. Moreover, under U.S. law, ‘safe third countries’ must have the ability to conduct full and fair individualized asylum determinations. Last year, Guatemala hosted only 664 refugees and asylum seekers, while more than 100,000 Guatemalans fled the country and over another 110,000 transited through Guatemala to seek protection elsewhere. Outsourcing of U.S. border policy to a country that cannot protect its own people will deliberately—with knowledge of the consequences—put into peril highly vulnerable women, men, and children.”
The proposed agreement with Guatemala is the latest piece in the Trump administration’s efforts to shift responsibility for refuge to other countries in the region. This is bad foreign policy that does little to address the root causes pushing Central Americans to migrate. It is also ineffective and inhumane.
This administration needs to realize that effective border management does not mean treating asylum-seekers like criminals.In the end, the administration’s wanton cruelty will degrade U.S. relations in the region, make the migration crisis worse and do little to deter those desperate enough to risk everything for a better life for their families.
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