Washington, D.C.—On July 26, the United States announced that it had signed a new “safe country” asylum deal with Guatemala. The deal—which contradicts a July 14 Constitutional Court ruling that President Morales could not unilaterally sign a “safe country” agreement without Guatemalan congressional approval—was struck after President Trump threatened last week to impose a travel ban and raise tariffs against Guatemala. While many details of the agreement remain unclear, by negotiating a migration deal in secret at a vulnerable moment for Guatemala’s democracy, the Trump administration is setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis and a humanitarian disaster in a Central American nation already struggling to uphold the rule of law and guarantee basic human rights.
“There is nothing safe about this deal,”said Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán. “Guatemala is plagued by violence, poverty, and corruption and it reportedly has fewer than a dozen asylum officers nationwide.”
“It is unclear how and if this supposed deal will actually be implemented given the rulings of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court,” Beltrán added. “What is clear is that the U.S. government is sending an incredibly damaging message to the region—appeasing President Trump’s agenda takes priority over respecting rule of law or upholding human rights.”
The agreement could force hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers to apply for protection in Guatemala. Morales’ administration maintains that the July 26 agreement is not a “safe third country” deal (directly contradicting the White House); nor have Morales administration officials confirmed whether the United States will be returning non-Guatemalan asylum seekers from the U.S.-Mexico border to Guatemala under the terms of the agreement. Moreover, it is unclear how the agreement will be implemented and whether President Morales will seek congressional approval as mandated by the courts.
Over 235,000 Guatemalans have been apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border so far this year; between October 2018 until last month, Guatemala has ranked number one in terms of seeing the greatest numbers of children and family members apprehended by Border Patrol authorities.
“Instead of investing in security and democracy for the Guatemalan people, the number one priority of Morales officials seems to be flaunt the law and protect themselves from corruption probes,” said Beltrán. “Building greater security, prosperity, and good governance in Guatemala is the most effective long-term way of deterring irregular migration—this reality has entirely escaped both President Morales and President Trump,” she added.