On Friday, Trump may or may not have signed a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala. No one is quite sure, since the text of whatever was signed has not been released. Guatemala is anything but safe and also lacks the other requirement for designation as a “safe third country” under U.S. law: a fair and functional asylum system. The agreement would affect asylum seekers fleeing Honduras, and Sonia Nazario describes why they are leaving in a long-form article published by the New York Times this weekend. More on both stories below, along with excerpts from two powerful Minnesota op/eds.
Guatemala Is Not a Safe Third Country
U.S. asylum law provides that asylum seekers passing through a “safe third country” should apply for asylum there.
“…pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement, to a country in which the alien’s life or freedom would not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and where the alien would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection. “
The only “safe third country” agreement is the agreement between the United States and Canada, which is currently being challenged in Canada because of concerns that the United States is no longer safe for asylum seekers.
The Guatemalan Constitutional Court ruled recently that the Guatemalan president could not agree to a “safe third country” designation without approval by the country’s congress. A U.S. court last week ordered a halt to the Trump administration’s attempt to unilaterally impose something like a “safe third country” designation on both Guatemala and Mexico, with the judge calling the administration’s action “arbitrary and capricious” and “inconsistent with the existing asylum laws,” and adding, “We don’t see how anyone could read this record and think those are safe countries.”
The complaint in this case noted that:
“According to the UNHCR, only 262 people applied for refugee status in Guatemala between January and November 2018, and that number was a 75 percent increase from the prior year. Since 2015, Guatemala has received on average fewer than 100 cases per year for asylum processing. In the last two years, it has only decided roughly 20 to 30 asylum cases. There are very few officials working on the asylum process in Guatemala, and its capacity to handle asylum claims is extremely limited.”
Besides these obvious legal problems, Guatemala is unsafe:
“Guatemala is the top source of irregular migration to the United States, with citizens fleeing poverty, violence, drought and low coffee prices. Eric Schwartz, head of Refugees International and a former top refugee official at the U.S. State Department, said in a statement that the pact “would represent a grotesque violation of both U.S. law and human decency” and “would put at risk the lives of thousands of Central Americans.”
In 2018, 116,808 migrants apprehended at the border were from Guatemala, making it the top country from which people are fleeing to the United States. Some 77,128 Hondurans and 31,636 Salvadorans were apprehended. The agreement would only apply to Hondurans and Salvadorans and persons from other countries traveling through Guatemala, who would be required to stay and apply for asylum there. The agreement could not apply to Guatemalans, because no one can apply for asylum in their own country.
Sonia Nazario is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Her long-form report on corruption and violence in Honduras vividly explains why desperate asylum seekers are leaving. .
“What most pushes people to despair about the country’s future — and ultimately drives them to leave — is corruption, the sense that everything is rotten and unlikely to get better. The corruption is what allows all the other bad things to happen. It allows gangs to impose a reign of terror. It allows nine in 10 murderers to get away with their crimes. It fuels poverty: Politicians steal 30 percent to 40 percent of all government revenues, by some estimates, crippling schools, hospitals and highways.
“And it is rocket fuel for migration. The number of Honduran migrants apprehended at the southern United States border has surged from 47,900 in 2017 to 205,039 in just the first nine months of this fiscal year….
“[The owner of a bus company] said he has asked the police for help six times in five years. He has let officers listen in on negotiations, given them gangsters’ phone numbers, taken police officers and an army colonel along on cash drops, provided them the Banco Azteca account number he used initially to pay MS-13. Surely that was traceable? But nothing changed….
“[C]orruption has rotted the police. Officers would shut down highways so drug planes could land and even killed top government officials who got in the way of the narcos.”
Keith Rodli reflects on his family’s immigrant history and earlier anti-immigrant sentiment directed at German immigrants in Minnesota:
“Just consider a century ago, during World War I, when misguided patriotism made some folks forget the values we Americans like to say are the foundation of our country. Values like the liberty to think and speak as one chooses; equality; diversity; unity….
“One particular story in the Albert Lea newspaper caught my eye. It told of how 11 men had lynched a fellow they suspected of being a German spy. “They were charged with murder, and at trial, their attorney argued to the jury that the lynching was justified. Why? The men had merely invoked a new “unwritten law” resulting from the war with Germany.
“It took the jury 40 minutes to acquit those 11 men.
“I have always looked at these historical episodes as anomalies — embarrassing times in which Americans had briefly lost touch with that INDIVISIBLE part of the Pledge — and unlikely to be repeated.
“But, of course, history does repeat.”
Ilhan Omar wrote a response to the recent attacks on her and on other Congresswomen, which was published in the New York Times.
“Last week, as President Trump watched the crowd at one of his rallies chant “Send her back,” aimed at me and my family, I was reminded of times when such fearmongering was allowed to flourish. I also couldn’t help but remember the horrors of civil war in Somalia that my family and I escaped, the America we expected to find and the one we actually experienced.
“The president’s rally will be a defining moment in American history. It reminds us of the grave stakes of the coming presidential election: that this fight is not merely about policy ideas; it is a fight for the soul of our nation. The ideals at the heart of our founding — equal protection under the law, pluralism, religious liberty — are under attack, and it is up to all of us to defend them….
“The proudest moments in our history — from the Emancipation Proclamation to the civil rights movement to the struggle against fascism — have come when we fight to protect and expand basic democratic rights. Today, democracy is under attack once again. It’s time to respond with the kind of conviction that has made America great before.”