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The Trump Administration Signed An Agreement That Could Force Asylum-Seekers To Ask For Refuge In El Salvador

The agreement is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to decrease the number of asylum-seekers showing up at the US border.

Posted on September 20, 2019, at 4:24 p.m. ET

Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters

The US and El Salvador signed an agreement on Friday that could force asylum-seekers crossing through El Salvador to seek protection in that violent Central American country instead of seeking protections in the US first.

But Trump administration officials were short on details about what, exactly, the agreement does and when it would actually be implemented.

"That is one potential use of the agreement," Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan explained to reporters, "that individuals who cross through El Salvador should be able to seek protections there."

McAleenan also said the agreement aims to help El Salvador expand its asylum system.

Alexandra Hill, El Salvador's foreign minister who signed the general memorandum of agreement, said it would increase safer alternatives to immigration for Salvadorans and that investments in El Salvador will hopefully keep its people from fleeing north. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

"The main issue is to protect our people that are forced to flee the country. We are talking about giving them safer alternatives and finding increased legal alternatives to safe migration. That is what the general memorandum of agreement contains," Hill said.

“El Salvador has not been able to give our people enough security or opportunities so they can stay and thrive,” she added.

The State Department has listed El Salvador as a country US travelers should reconsider visiting.

"Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery, is common," the US State Department wrote in a recent report. "Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents."

The agreement comes after the White House directed the Department of Homeland Security to secure "safe third country"–style agreements with El Salvador and Honduras by Oct. 1, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

It's the latest move by the Trump administration to decrease the number of asylum-seekers arriving to the US border. DHS has already signed an asylum agreement with Guatemala that would require asylum-seekers who travel through the country to first seek protection there before being able to ask the US for refuge, but it has yet to be implemented.

The US currently only had a safe third country agreement with Canada, an accord signed in 2002 that went into effect in 2004.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.