Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan visited Guatemala to continue talks with the country’s top leaders after reaching a major agreement on U.S.-bound asylum-seekers.
McAleenan traveled Wednesday to Guatemala City, where he was to speak with officials about the “safe third country deal” recently signed by both countries, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The acting DHS chief, set to return Thursday, also was to engage with local leaders on several other initiatives that aim to reduce the flow of illegal immigration.
“Just arrived in Guatemala,” McAleenan tweeted Wednesday. “Looking forward to working to expand the partnership between Guatemala and the U.S. to stem the flow of illegal migration and disrupt human smuggling and transnational criminal organizations.”
The Trump administration announced Friday that it had reached the safe third country agreement with Guatemala, which requires its government to accept and hold U.S. asylum-seekers from other Central American countries.
For example, illegal immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras who pass Guatemala on their way to the U.S. must instead remain in Guatemala. The plans are expected to be executed during August.
The Trump administration has reached other deals with the Guatemalan government regarding the illegal immigration crisis. The Memorandum of Cooperation signed in May called on Guatemala to better enforce its own borders and stem the flow of migrants that leave its country.
However, until Friday, the tiny Central American country had resisted pressure from President Donald Trump to become a safe third country.
Questions remain over whether Guatemala will abide by its side of the agreement—or if it’s even capable of doing so.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ term ends in January, and it is not yet known who his successor will be. The country will hold an election runoff Aug. 11 between left-wing candidate Sandra Torres and conservative Alejandro Giammattei. Both presidential hopefuls have expressed concern over the accord.
“There needs to be a thorough analysis of whether the minister had the power to sign an agreement with these international characteristics, and in any case the agreement has to go to Congress, whoever signed it,” Torres said of the deal.
Giammattei took to Twitter on the day the agreement was signed to announce his opposition.
McAleenan was expected to meet with both of the leading candidates during his trip and tout the benefits of remaining in the deal. A draft DHS memo obtained by BuzzFeed News indicates that McAleenan was willing to offer both candidates a return of U.S. aid.
For years Washington delivered millions in economic aid to Central American countries, but the Trump administration in June withheld the funds, citing their lack of cooperation on the immigration crisis.
Becoming a safe third country is extremely unpopular among Guatemalans. Citizens took to the streets to protest after Morales’ administration entered into the agreement.
Guatemala’s highest court will decide if the deal must be ratified by Congress, where opposition is strong, and if the interior minister had the legal authority to sign it.
Trump has also pressured Mexico on entering into a safe third country agreement, but Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has so far bucked his calls.
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