Trump’s Threats Won’t Make Mexico and Guatemala ‘Safe Third Countries’

Trump’s Threats Won’t Make Mexico and Guatemala ‘Safe Third Countries’
Rather than wait out their asylum application process, Central American asylum-seekers board a bus to return home, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 2, 2019 (AP photo by Christian Chavez).

Since the early days of his administration, U.S. President Donald Trump has made multiple attempts to limit asylum—an international right defined by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights—as part of an often-virulent anti-immigrant platform. From his so-called Muslim ban to reports this week that his administration is mulling efforts to punish the Guatemalan government by banning its nationals from entering the United States, Trump has shown an alarming lack of understanding of international norms about refugees and asylum-seekers.

His administration’s moves to further dissuade migrants and would-be refugees from seeking asylum in the U.S. have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis at the southern border, where dozens have died in detention facilities and conditions have been widely described by observers as “punitive” and “inhumane.” Rather than apportioning more resources to attend to urgent, basic needs in these facilities or trying to address the root causes for migration in Central America, Trump is doing what he does best: blaming others.

Consider the Trump administration’s most recent perversion of the international right of asylum: its efforts to establish “safe third country” agreements with both Mexico and Guatemala. If enacted, these agreements would compel migrants filing asylum claims to do so in one of those countries rather than the United States. Although Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales appeared open to signing such a deal, the country’s Constitutional Court last week blocked his efforts, ruling that Congress would have to approve any agreement. Morales then backed away from talks with the Trump administration, which prompted Trump to threaten Guatemala this week with tariffs and a ban on all Guatemalans entering the country.

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