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A man, 28, from Michoacan State walks with his daughter, 6, and son, 4, through a camp of Mexican asylum seekers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Dec. 13, 2019. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. immigration authorities may now send Mexicans seeking asylum at the U.S. border to Guatemala — a country plagued by violence — so they can seek protections in that country instead.
News of the expansion of a policy that has already sent dozens of Honduran and Salvadoran asylum-seekers from the U.S. border to Guatemala was first reported by BuzzFeed News.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed its policy change, made possible under an agreement signed in July between the U.S. and Guatemala.
“Certain Mexicans seeking humanitarian protections in the United States may now be eligible to be transferred to Guatemala and given the opportunity to seek protection there, under the terms of the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement,” a DHS spokesman said in a statement.
DHS did not respond to requests for more information on who among Mexican nationals will be considered for such transfers, or whether the policy is now being implemented along the California-Mexico border. The plan has been in place in Texas since November, according to BuzzFeed News.
The move by the Trump administration is the latest in a series of policies aimed at restricting asylum protections and deterring illegal border crossings. High-ranking immigration officials maintain the asylum system is being exploited by migrants who are merely seeking economic opportunity.
In 2019, U.S. immigration courts decided more than 4,400 asylum cases of Guatemalans who told border officials they had a credible fear of returning to their country, according to government figures. Immigrants who pass a credible fear interview with asylum officers, are then referred to an immigration judge to pursue their case.
Mexican officials expressed “disagreement” with the DHS plan and said it could affect about 900 applicants beginning in February.
“The Government of Mexico, together with state and local authorities, will work to offer better options to Mexicans who may be affected by this provision,” said the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement. “The Foreign Ministry will closely monitor compliance with the human rights set forth in the international agreements signed and ratified by both Mexico and the United States.
"Guatemala remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with an “alarmingly high” murder rate driven in part by drug traffickers, criminal gangs and a justice system unable to hold many criminals accountable, according to a report by the U.S. Department of State Overseas Security Advisory Council.
Hundreds of clients at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center are Guatemalan asylum-seekers “often fleeing unspeakable violence,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the organization, which has several offices in Southern California.
“The idea that the U.S. government is now going to send asylum-seekers from Mexico and elsewhere to a place that we know to be incredibly dangerous is a stunning betrayal of the commitment to human rights that our country has long aspired to uphold,” Toczylowski said. “This new agreement is further proof of the Trump administration’s intention to completely dismantle the asylum protection system in the U.S. and to close our doors to the most vulnerable.”
Harley Shaiken, who directs the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, said the Guatemalan government does not have the ability to ensure a fair and efficient asylum process.
“It defies logic given the weak institutions and the increasing impunity in Guatemala to think that the government could process Mexicans who are fleeing persecution or evaluate their claims fairly,” Shaiken said. “It’s very dangerous, and the U.S. government is essentially fleeing it’s moral responsibilities but also its legal responsibilities under international agreements that we’ve signed, and even U.S. law.”
"It’s beyond the pale," Shaiken added. "It’s Orwellian logic run amok ... thousands of Guatemalans are fleeing violence and persecution there. And to use this country to locate Mexican asylum-seekers is cruel and dangerous."