WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump announced on Friday that a “landmark” asylum agreement has been reached with Guatemala, as the United States ratchets up pressure on its southern neighbours to stem the flow of migrants towards its border.
The White House said Guatemala would now be considered a “safe third country”, meaning that US-bound migrants who enter Guatemala would be required to seek asylum there instead.
But the US Department of Homeland Security said the term did not appear in the text agreed to on Friday, of which few details were initially known.
Mr Trump said the deal will “provide safety to legitimate asylum seekers and stop asylum fraud” in the region.
“This landmark agreement will put the coyotes and smugglers out of business,” the President said, referring to the “bad people” who have trafficked thousands of migrants through Mexico to the southern US border.
The agreement with Guatemala comes days after Mr Trump threatened tough retaliation against the small Central American country if it did not sign on to an asylum deal –
Friday’s agreement, signed in the Oval Office by Guatemala’s Interior Minister, Mr Enrique Degenhart, and US Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, would apply to Salvadoran or Honduran migrants passing through Guatemala towards the United States, if not others.
If Central American migrants instead “make a journey all the way to the US border, they would be (removed) back to Guatemala if they want to seek asylum”, he said.
The deal is expected to be up and running next month, Mr McAleenan added.
US authorities have recorded a dramatic rise in detentions of migrants over the past year, many of them fleeing chronic poverty and gruesome gang violence in Central America.