President Donald Trump announced on July 26, 2019, that the United States and Guatemala have signed a controversial “safe third country” agreement, a key part of the president’s plan for reducing the influx of migrants at the U.S. border.
Under the deal, asylum seekers from Central American nations — such as El Salvador and Honduras — traveling through Guatemala on their way to the southern U.S. border would first be expected to seek protection there instead of the United States. Refugees who travel through Guatemala but fail to claim asylum there would be deemed ineligible to seek protection in the United States and could be deported.
The agreement has attracted widespread criticism for being illegal and inhumane. Human rights groups have said Guatemala lacks the infrastructure necessary to accept refugees and process asylum applications. In addition, the nation’s high crime rate and gang violence pose a danger to migrants.
Guatemalan Minister of Interior Enrique Degenhart signed the agreement in the Oval Office after President Trump threatened to place tariffs on Guatemalan goods entering the United States, which could be devastating for the Central American nation. The agreement has faced legal hurdles in Guatemala. President Trump’s threats came after the country’s high court blocked its president from signing the agreement with the United States in early July 2019.
The agreement is not yet in effect. The Guatemalan Congress must approve the treaty before it comes into effect. In addition, the country’s government officials have rejected the characterization of the deal with the United States as a “safe third country” agreement.