In the new year, the process for asylum could look drastically different due to a new effort by the Trump administration to deter immigration into the U.S. by sending asylum seekers to Central American countries.
Under asylum cooperation agreements, a new rule the White House directed the Department of Homeland Security to implement, the U.S. has been making deals with countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that requires people journeying to the U.S.’ southern border to apply for protections in these countries first. If they don’t, upon reaching the U.S., they will be deported to one of the said countries.
For instance, should someone seeking asylum from Haiti, India, Brazil or any other country reach the southern border, they will be forced to first seek protection in the Central American countries. The rule, however, prohibits someone seeking asylum from one of the three countries under the agreement to be forced back to their home country, though they would still need to seek protections in one of the other nations.
The controversial agreements have received backlash from immigrant rights and human rights activists and legal professionals who say they place people who are seeking asylum from violence and impoverishment into countries where they risk similar or greater brutality.
“We’re talking about forcing people to remain in these countries where the government is unable to protect them, locking them there and throwing away the key,” Ursela Ojeda, an immigrant rights and justice policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told BuzzFeed News. “It is unprecedented in the sense that the idea that we would consider these countries safe is laughable. People will suffer and people will die.”
For Ojeda, the agreements transform the U.S. from a country that protects vulnerable populations to one that directly puts them in danger — all for President Donald Trump to meet his campaign goal of driving down the number of people immigrating into the country.
For now, only asylum seekers have been sent to Guatemala. According to Vox, while there isn’t yet an official count, “a relatively small number of single adult migrants” have been deported through the program.
BuzzFeed News reports there have been problems implementing the agreement with Honduras, despite starting talks about the plan in September. According to the news site, the Central American country has made requests that the U.S. has described as “operationally unfeasible.” These demands include requesting that no one convicted or accused of a felony be sent to their country, that the person being deported agrees to being sent to Honduras and that the transfer happens only after both countries are “provided notification that they have complied with the legal and institutional conditions necessary for proper implementation of this agreement.”
The U.S. has responded to the requests by accusing Honduras of attempting to back out of their deal.
“This reads as [the government of Honduras]’s escape-hatch not to implement the ACA given its lack of ‘institutional conditions’ or as the hook to demand more assistance” from the U.S. or nongovernmental organizations,” the officials wrote, according to the news outlet.
The U.S., which already has a similar agreement with Canada, is pursuing similar deals with Mexico and Panama.