Donald Trump announced Friday that Guatemala was signing an agreement to restrict asylum applications to the US, a move that immigrant rights advocates said was cruel and unlawful.
The so-called “safe third country” agreement would require migrants, including Salvadorans and Hondurans, who cross into Guatemala on their way to the US to apply for protections in Guatemala instead of at the US border.
It’s not yet clear how the agreement would take effect. Guatemala’s constitutional court has granted three injunctions blocking its government from entering into a deal without approval of the country’s congress.
The announcement came after a court in California blocked Trump’s most restrictive asylum effort to date – one that would have, in effect, ended protections at the southern border.
Human rights groups condemned the latest move on Friday, with Amnesty International saying that “any attempts to force families and individuals fleeing their home countries to seek safety in Guatemala are outrageous”.
“The Trump administration must abandon this cruel and illegal plan to shut doors to families and individuals trying to rebuild their lives in safety,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, the group’s advocacy director for the Americas.
Raices, a Texas-based group that provides legal services to immigrant and refugee families, said the plan would put people’s lives at risk and that the third country agreement “violates the principle of asylum and directly leads to people being kidnapped, beaten and sexually abused”.
The two countries had been negotiating such an agreement for months, and Trump threatened Wednesday to place tariffs or other consequences on Guatemala if it didn’t reach a deal.
Guatemala’s government put out a short Spanish-language statement on Twitter that did not call the agreement “third safe country” but “Cooperation Agreement for the Assessment of Protection Requests”.
The Guatemalan government said that in the coming days its labor ministry “will start issuing work visas in the agriculture industry, which will allow Guatemalans to travel legally to the United States, to avoid being victims of criminal organizations, to work temporarily and then return to Guatemala, which will strengthen family unity”.
The US president claimed it was a “landmark agreement” that would “put the coyotes and smugglers out of business”, adding: “This is a very big day. We have long been working with Guatemala and now we can do it the right way.”