(EFE).– President Donald Trump presented Friday an agreement with Guatemala aimed at reducing the flow of Central American asylum-seekers to the United States.
“The United States and Guatemala have reached an agreement on asylum,” the White House said on Twitter.
Minutes earlier, the president unexpectedly invited the White House press corps into the Oval Office to witness the signing of the accord, which came days after he threatened Guatemala with economic sanctions for ostensibly reneging on an agreement to become a safe third country for northbound migrants.
Guatemala was represented by its interior minister, Enrique Degenhart, while Trump was accompanied by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, among other senior officials.
“Look, we’ve been dealing for many years, I would say, with Guatemala and with other countries, and we are now at a point where we are – we just get along. And they’re doing what we’ve asked them to do, and I think it’s gonna be a great thing for Guatemala,” Trump said of the pact.
“They (the Guatemalans) don’t want these problems either. So we were able to get this done and we got it done fairly quickly,” the president said. “Mexico also is working along with us very nicely. I mean tremendously, actually. You’ll see a chart where the numbers are really through the – through the floor, I should say, because they’re going down.”
While neither government released the full text, the accord would require US-bound migrants from countries further south, such as Honduras and El Salvador to apply for asylum in Guatemala instead of continuing north across Mexico to the United States.
Migrants who press on to the US border and apply for asylum will be told to go back to Guatemala.
The past year has seen a stream of people fleeing poverty and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras make their way across Mexico to the US border and file applications for asylum.
Late in 2018, Mexico agreed to allow some Central American migrants to remain on its soil as the US was processing their claims.
At the same time, the Mexican government has steadfastly refused to accept the safe third country designation, even in the face of tariff threats from Trump, though Mexico has deployed security forces on its southern border with Guatemala to reduce the flow of migrants.
Amid talk in Guatemala about the possibility of becoming a safe third country, the national ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, and several former foreign ministers asked the Constitutional Court to block any move in that direction and the judges issued an injunction on July 14 requiring President Jimmy Morales to get lawmakers’ approval for such an agreement.
The Morales administration denied the existence of a firm accord with Washington on the migration issue, yet plans for a meeting of the respective presidents were scrapped after the court ruling.
Soon enough, Trump expressed his ire on Twitter.
“Guatemala, which has been forming Caravans and sending large numbers of people, some with criminal records, to the United States, has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go. Now we are looking at the BAN … Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above. Guatemala has not been good,” he said in successive tweets.
While it was not immediately clear what Trump meant by “ban,” imposing tariffs on Guatemalan imports would run afoul of the 2006 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement linking the US with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Levying fees or taxes on the remittances that Guatemalans working in the US send home to their families – $9.3 billion in 2018 – would have a devastating impact on the impoverished nation.
Morales responded to Trump’s Twitter outburst by denouncing the Guatemalan Constitutional Court.
The court’s “intrusion into foreign policy contributed greatly to the deterioration of negotiations between Guatemala and the United States of America on issues related to irregular migration, border security and the joint struggle against the transnational threats of organized crime in Central America,” Morales said Tuesday.
Following Friday’s signing ceremony at the White House, Morales said that negotiations averted the imposition of “drastic sanctions” on Guatemala.
The deal does include a sweetener for Guatemala in the form of a US commitment to expand opportunities for Guatemalan farm workers to come to the United States on a seasonal basis under the H-2A visa program. EFE
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