President Donald Trump announced an agreement with Guatemala on Friday that he anticipates will help lessen the flow of Central American migrants to the U.S. southern border.
The so-called “safe third country” agreement requires migrants, including those from El Salvador and Honduras, to apply for asylum in Guatemala before attempting to seek it in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.
“This is a very big day,” Trump said, “We have long been working with Guatemala and now we can do it the right way.”
“This landmark agreement will put the coyotes and smugglers out of business,” he added.
Much as with Mexico earlier this year, Trump had threatened tariffs on Guatemalan goods entering the U.S., if a third party asylum plan could not be reached.
“We’ll either do tariffs or we’ll do something. We’re looking at something very severe with respect to Guatemala,” the president said on Wednesday, when it appeared negotiations had fallen through.
With the new agreement, Trump said Guatemala has “a friend in the United States, instead of an enemy in the United States.”
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales posted Friday on Facebook that his country would have faced “drastic sanctions” and levies on remittances sent from Guatemalans working in the U.S. to their home country.
In addition to the safe third country agreement, Morales said, the Trump administration agreed to a temporary work visas program for the agricultural sector, which will allow Guatemalans to work legally in the U.S.
He concluded, the “government of Guatemala will continue to strengthen its ties of friendship and cooperation with the United States of America.”
The Guatemalan government also released a statement, explaining its Labor Ministry “will start issuing work visas in the agriculture industry, which will allow Guatemalans to travel legally to the United States, to avoid being victims of criminal organizations, to work temporarily and then return to Guatemala, which will strengthen family unity.”
Appearing beside Trump and acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in the Oval Office, Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart described the agreement as “very important.”
“Guatemala is definitely clear on the responsibilities that it has,” he said. “We are clear that we have to make changes. The way to do it is working together with our best ally.
“That is what we are showing here today.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 26, 2019
McAleenan recounted that the U.S. had been working with Degenhart and his government for a long time on a plan to slow the flow of migrants. “We stayed with it and got over the line,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, derided the agreement as “cruel and immoral.”
″It is also illegal,” he said. “Simply put, Guatemala is not a safe country for refugees and asylum seekers, as the law requires.”
The AP reported that Guatemalans accounted for 34 percent of Border Patrol arrests on the Mexican border from October to June. Hondurans were second at 30 percent, Mexicans third at 18 percent and Salvadorans fourth at 10 percent.
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