Unsafe Third Countries


The Trump administration won’t let asylum seekers into the United States. Tens of thousands wait for their next U.S. immigration court dates in danger and squalor in Mexico. Under the Remain in Mexico (Migrant Protection Protocol) policy, they are allowed into the United States for each court hearing and then taken back to Mexico until the next hearing.

Now the Trump administration has begun sending plane-loads of asylum seekers to Guatemala. They plan to send more to Honduras, beginning this week. Under international law, they can’t send asylum seekers back to the countries that they fled, so they are shipping Hondurans and Salvadorans to Guatemala. They plan to send asylum seekers from Guatemala, El Salvador, México, Brazil and Nicaragua to Honduras.

The game of musical chairs that sends Mexican asylum seekers to Honduras and Honduran asylum seekers to Guatemala, and so on, is a cynical and heartless circumvention of international and U.S. law.

Here is what they face in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.


After last year’s election, the United Nations-backed prosecutors fighting corruption were ordered out of the country. Now:

“Human rights violations are increasing. In the countryside, communities opposing mining and hydroelectric projects have faced violence. Last year, 16 environmental and land defenders were killed in Guatemala, according to Global Witness, making it the deadliest country in the world per capita for such activists.

“Mr. Giammattei has promised to open up Indigenous lands to more of these projects.”

Before leaving, the U.N. anti-corruption commission made a final report.

“The commission, known as Cicig for its initials in Spanish, said in its final report that there is a ‘mafia coalition’ among members of government, the business community and private individuals that is ‘willing to sacrifice Guatemala’s present and future to guarantee impunity and preserve the status quo’.”

An article in The Nation traces the role of U.S. policy, the CIA, and the Border Patrol in the recent history and present repression in Guatemala.

“In Yalambojoch, people banded together to stop construction of the highway through their village, not because they don’t want a road, but because the Israeli company contracted to build it threatened to cut down hundreds of trees in a protected forest reserve next to the community’s only supply of fresh drinking water. A few kilometers away, community and environmental activists opposing the megaprojects have been jailedattacked, or killed, and Guatemalan security forces have militarized the zone once again. The most recent killings in this region occurred the day before Felipe and his father crossed the US border….

“There are circles within circles, all spinning forward to this dismal moment: A Border Patrol agent began working with the CIA, and helped put into place a death-squad regime that accelerated a civil war that produced biblical levels of displacement; when refugees from that civil war, including families from Yalambojoch, tried to return home, many found they couldn’t survive in the society created by war.”


The brother of the Honduran president has been convicted in the United States of drug trafficking on a major scale, and the president himself has been implicated:

“U.S. federal prosecutors have accused the Honduran government of essentially functioning as a narco-state, with the current and former presidents having received campaign contributions from cocaine traffickers in exchange for protection.

“A 49-page document filed in New York’s southern district on Friday refers to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as a co-conspirator who worked with his brother, Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, and former President Porfirio Lobo ‘to use drug trafficking to help assert power and control in Honduras.””

Journalist Sonia Nazario details the power of gangs and the complicity of police and government in Honduras:

“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….

“He 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.

“Lately, anti-extortion officers have told him they just can’t touch MS-13 or 18th Street. ‘They know people in the government are with them,’ he said. ‘They know this is uncontrollable.’ He, like many others I spoke to, felt the corruption was getting worse.”

The United States remains complicit in the government corruption in Honduras and Guatemala. Sonia Nazario:

“If the United States wants to slow migration from Central America, that’s the swamp we must help drain. Instead, the Trump administration failed to protest when Guatemala kicked out the head of a United-Nations-sponsored anti-corruption mission last year and ordered it closed altogether this September. Its Honduran counterpart, the Mission in Support of the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, could get booted from the country when its mandate from the Organization of American States ends in January.”

Just a few days ago, Honduras expelled the OAS anti-corruption mission.


As people from other countries move through Mexico, seeking asylum in the United States, they are joined by more and more Mexicans fleeing violence in their own country. *UPDATE: On January21, Mexico announced that its2019 homicide rate was the highest since it began keeping records in 1997.

But asylum seekers from Central America and Mexico, along with others from Cuba, Venezuela, and as far away as Europe and Africa, are trapped in border cities.

Tijuana is one of the border cities:

“Last month Mexico’s security chief, Alfonso Durazo, claimed the crisis was reaching ‘inflection point’ – only for his upbeat message to be imploded by a week of mayhem which saw cartel gunmen slay 13 police officers and then paralyze a major city in order to free the son of Mexico’s most famous drug lord, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán.

“In the first nine months of this year, Mexico suffered an average of close to 100 murders a day.

“Tijuana has seen a methamphetamine-fuelled murder epidemic which produced a record 2,518 murders in 2018 and looks set to cause even more this year.”

August 2019:

“The merciless dogfight between Mexican drug cartels has produced its latest macabre spectacle with the discovery of 19 mutilated corpses – nine of them hung semi-naked from a bridge – in a city to the west of the capital.

“The massacre, in Uruapan 250 miles from Mexico City, was claimed by the increasingly dominant Jalisco New Generation cartel which posted a large white banner beside the dangling bodies of its victims.

“’Lovely people, carry on with your routines,’ it read, beneath the group’s capitalised red initials, CJNG.

“At least 10 other dismembered and bullet-riddled bodies were reportedly found dumped in two nearby locations.”

December 2019:

“Mexican authorities have arrested a municipal police chief for his suspected links to the killing of three women and six children of US-Mexican origin in northern Mexico last month, local media and an official said on Friday.”

January 2020:

“More bloodshed is being reported from Nuevo Laredo as the gun battles are now entering their third day.

“The fight between cartels and Mexican law enforcement stretched to 72 hours Thursday. State police lost one officer and another was injured Thursday night.”

Even the Mexican government acknowledges the scope and seriousness of the violence:

“Karla Quintana, head of Mexico’s National Search Commission, which coordinates the effort to find the missing, said that at least 61,637 people had been reported disappeared and not been found. ‘These are data of horror, and behind them are stories and narratives of great pain for families,’ she said at a news conference.

The numbers confirm that Mexico is suffering one of the worst crises of ‘the disappeared’ in Latin American history.”

These are the countries and situations into which the United States is sending asylum seekers. Both the “safe third country” deportations and the completely misnamed Migrant Protection Protocol (aka Remain in Mexico) put asylum seekers at greater risk and violate the letter and spirit of international and U.S. law.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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