Recently, President Trump tweeted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin a mass deportation effort aimed at removing “millions” of undocumented immigrants, and that Guatemala is about to sign a Safe Third-Country Agreement. Like so many of the threats that Trump tweets, this one sounds like more bluster than fact. Still, ICE will certainly continue its aggressive enforcement efforts, and those who are undocumented need to use caution and, if possible, explore possible ways to change their status.
If the administration is genuinely seeking a Safe Third-Country agreement with Guatemala, it is a perversion of the premise of the pact and a clear sign of the administration’s willful indifference to human life. The premise of the agreement is that migrants who passed through the country would have to seek asylum in that country, not the United States. People fleeing poverty, corruption, and violence in Honduras and El Salvador would have to apply for asylum in Guatemala, and if they didn’t and reached the U.S. border, they would be returned to Guatemala. Since people are fleeing Guatemala for the same reason, signing such a treaty would be a sick joke.
In response to the idea of such an agreement, Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer issued the following statement:
Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees. It is a country that refugees are fleeing. The U.S. State Department’s own human rights reports reveal that rape, femicide, violence against women, trafficking in persons, violent attacks against LGBTI persons, and gang-recruitment of displaced children are all serious problems in Guatemala. Corruption and extortion are rampant, leaving many people unprotected by the police and other authorities. Refugees returned to Guatemala would not only face dangers in Guatemala, but they would be at grave risk of being sent back to their countries of persecution given the country’s lack of effective systems and capacity for identifying and protecting refugees from deportation.
It’s simply ludicrous for the United States to assert that Guatemala is capable of protecting refugees turned away from the United States at a time when its own citizens are fleeing violence and other failures of state protection. This is just another shameful and illegal attempt to ban, bar, and block refugees from seeking asylum in the United States.
As has been his style throughout his presidency, Trump’s solution to a problem has been to threaten it. Recently, he threatened the Mexican government with tariffs to coerce it to do more to stop the flow of asylum seekers toward the United States, and rather than take measures to help address the conditions that motivate people to flee “Northern Triangle” countries, on Monday he announced that he would cut millions in foreign aid to Central America until the countries did more to prevent people from trying to migrate northward.
This came at a time when Trump has been trying to get a Safe Third Country agreement with Mexico as well, an idea that Jorge Castaneda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, rejects, saying that Mexico “is not a safe place for Mexicans so I don't see why it would be a safe place for Guatemalans.”
It’s hard to imagine how that strategy leads to anything other than more pain and misery.