Will Bukele’s Deference to Trump Backfire in El Salvador?

Will Bukele’s Deference to Trump Backfire in El Salvador?
President Donald Trump meets with President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador at the InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, Sept. 25, 2019 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

“We signed the agreement because we want to show our friendship to our most important ally, which is the United States,” El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, said in a meeting last week with President Donald Trump during the U.N. General Assembly. Bukele was referring to the “asylum cooperation agreement” struck the week before between his government and Washington. Though its details are still unclear, the deal would require foreign nationals who cross into El Salvador seeking asylum to apply for it there rather than in the United States. It would also give the U.S. the ability to make people with pending U.S. asylum claims wait out the application process in El Salvador, according to immigration advocates.

The agreement is the latest effort by the Trump administration to restrict the right to asylum in the United States. In July, the U.S. signed a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala, which would force asylum-seekers traveling through Guatemala to apply for asylum there before being able to do so in the United States. That deal has yet to be ratified by Guatemala’s Congress. Last week, Washington also announced a similar asylum cooperation agreement with Honduras.

The deal is notably not called a safe third country agreement, apparently at the Salvadoran government’s insistence, “for their own credibility and their own public image,” said Oscar Chacon, the executive director of Alianza Americas, a U.S. and El Salvador-based network of Latin American and Caribbean immigrant organizations. “However, the content of it is essentially the same.” Chacon called the plan “crazy,” because “El Salvador is not at all a country that anybody in their right mind would consider a safe haven.”

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