The Remain in Mexico policy forcing asylum seekers back to Mexico in between court hearings was bad. Deporting Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala is much worse—and the flights have begun.
“We are being asked to violate human rights,” one asylum officer told Buzzfeed News. Guatemala is not safe for asylum seekers. The government and police are riddled with corruption, violence from gangs and political killings drives Guatemalans themselves from the country, and its asylum system is small and ineffective.
At the same time that U.S. asylum officers received instructions on how to send asylum seekers to Guatemala, they also received information on the country:
“The materials include information on pervasive violence against women in the country, killings of indigenous activists, prevalence of the notorious gang MS-13, and a link to a research paper that states ‘a culture of violence and impunity pervades all of Guatemalan society today.’ …
“‘Being told to send asylum-seekers to Guatemala without even a screening on their claim while also being given research explaining, in detail, the incredible danger that exists throughout the country is extensively frustrating,’ said one asylum officer who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. ‘This agreement feels like a pretext to get rid of as many asylum claims as possible.'”
Asylum officers leaked training slides on the program. Among other instructions, the slides say that asylum seekers targeted for the program have no right to an attorney and no right to appeal deportation orders to an immigration judge.
To resist deportation to Guatemala, an asylum seeker must show that it is more likely than not that they will be persecuted in Guatemala on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. They must provide proof by a preponderance of the evidence.
The asylum seeker will not be told that this is what they have to show. They will have to figure it out on their own. And provide evidence, without benefit of an attorney, without time to prepare, with no way to gather or present evidence.
There is no legal basis for deporting asylum seekers to Guatemala, but that doesn’t matter to the administration.
“The regulation claims that asylum seekers will only be sent back to countries where they have ‘access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection.’ The administration has certified that Guatemala’s legal framework meets that standard, the official said, but has not evaluated whether Guatemala has the capacity to accept asylum seekers based on, for example, infrastructure or personnel needs….
“’The rule flatly violates federal law and makes a mockery of our national obligation not to return asylum seekers to violence and persecution,’ Richard Calderone, litigation counsel at the Tahirih Justice Center, said in a statement. ‘And if fully implemented, it will effectively end asylum and related protections in the United States for everyone except unaccompanied children.’”