Seems like terrible immigration stories often break late on Friday, when they may be buried in the weekend news cycle. This week’s Friday night outrage: a not-quite-safe-third-country agreement signed with El Salvador, and an administration plan to force vulnerable asylum seekers to relocate in El Salvador.
El Salvador is not a safe country. That’s obvious to anyone who can read worldwide homicide statistics, even if they do not also know of military and police complicity with criminal gangs and continuing inability of the country’s legal system to protect vulnerable citizens. AP summarizes the problem very well:
“’Where will they declare a haven for asylum seekers next? Syria? North Korea? This is cynical and absurd. El Salvador is in no way safe for asylum seekers,’ said Refugees International President Eric Schwartz….
“El Salvador is plagued by gangs and is among the world’s deadliest countries, with one of the highest homicide rates on the globe.
“According to a 2018 State Department report, human rights issues included allegations of ‘unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of government respect for judicial independence.’”
Under U.S. law, asylum seekers who pass through a “safe third country” before coming to the United States must apply for asylum in that country. The agreement signed with El Salvador, like an earlier agreement with Guatemala, is not exactly a “safe third country” agreement as defined by U.S. immigration law and as referred to by international human rights standards.
The only existing U.S. safe third country agreement is with Canada. Canada is, in fact, reconsidering that agreement, on the basis that the United States may no longer be a safe third country for asylum seekers.
If the agreement with El Salvador is implemented, it would mean the United States could return any asylum seekers who pass through El Salvador on their way to the United States—except for Salvadoran asylum seekers who are fleeing their own country. Since Guatemalans and Hondurans do not ordinarily cross Salvadoran territory as they journey north, that would affect mainly people from countries farther south, or from Cuba, or from other parts of the world.
Then there’s the question of the effect on more than 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The Trump administration tried to terminate their status, but was stymied by a court injunction, and reluctantly extended TPS to January 2020. TPS status has been part of the negotiation with El Salvador.
“The accord shows willingness by the Trump administration to send people to places that are known to be dangerous — and from which people have been fleeing extreme poverty, violence and corruption — to dissuade them from attempting a journey to the U.S. border in the first place….
“A TPS deal has been included in the discussions, U.S. officials say, but McAleenan made no announcement on the topic Friday, even as Hill, the Salvadoran foreign minister, spoke in urgent terms about the need for a resolution.”
Despite the indefensible violation of human rights that these agreements would perpetuate, there remains a ray of hope. As Vox’s Dara LInd points out in a tweet,
“given a) no one has been returned under Guat agreement signed 2 months ago and b) we actually don’t know plan for returns under this agreement, probs shouldn’t frame this as ‘US to start deporting ppl to Salvador.'”
In other words, hope for asylum seekers rests in the massive ineptitude of the Trump administration.