WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

6 Dec 2019 | News

Policy Memo: U.S.-Central America Asylum Agreements are Cruel and Unworkable

A policy memo released by seven civil society groups describes concerns over how the troubling asylum agreements forged between the United States and various Central American nations have a high potential to violate the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

“The safe third country agreements form a part of the Trump Administration’s deeply flawed approach to address the refugee crisis from Central America at the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the region that must be reversed,” the memo states. “The [asylum agreements] should be suspended and the United States should instead restore full access to asylum and due process for those seeking protection at our border.”

By October 2019, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras had all signed asylum cooperation agreements with the United States, in a process characterized by a complete lack of transparency, the memo notes. Broadly speaking, under the terms of the agreements the U.S. government will deport asylum seekers who traveled through the signatory countries back to Central America, in order to apply for protections there. So far, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has only made the agreement with Guatemala public. This means that at the time of the memo’s publication, little information has been released on how the agreements will be funded, what exceptions (if any) there are for unaccompanied children, and other details regarding implementation of the accords.

The memo examines how the asylum agreements may violate U.S. and international refugee law, while also outlining concerns related to the capacity of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to protect the asylum seekers sent back from the United States. The memo also addresses the concerning impact that potential new border security and intelligence-sharing efforts by U.S. and Central American governments could have on the freedom of movement of migrants and asylum seekers in the region.

In recommendations addressed to Congress, the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security, the memo urges specific courses of action to increase transparency around the asylum agreements, increase oversight of how they are being implemented, and uphold protections for migrants and asylum seekers.

“The United States must not abdicate its responsibility to provide protection to those who seek it,” the memo states. “Actions proposed under the Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs), and potentially the border-security agreements, constitute a burden-shifting approach that far from alleviating protection concerns in the region, will only further fuel the ongoing refugee crisis.”

The memo was sponsored by WOLA, labor union federation AFL-CIO, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Alianza Americas, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.