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A Controversial Plan To Deport Mexican Asylum-Seekers To Guatemala Has Been Paused

The move had been met with criticism and anger from immigrant advocates and politicians.

Posted on January 8, 2020, at 5:04 p.m. ET

Marco Ugarte / AP

A Central American migrant looks through the barrier structure at the US–Mexico border.

A controversial Trump administration plan to send Mexican nationals who seek asylum at the southern US border to Guatemala has been temporarily put on hold, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

The move, which was initially reported by BuzzFeed News, was met with criticism and anger from immigrant advocates and politicians earlier this week. Both Mexican and Guatemalan officials also criticized the decision in recent days and called into question its legitimacy.

"It is more than clear that within the agreement only Salvadorans and Hondurans were to be sent,” outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Wednesday. “The United States has talked about the possibility of discussing whether to include Mexican nationals, but that is something the incoming administration will have to discuss. It's totally false that we had negotiated that Mexicans be sent here... Those are rumors."

It’s unclear how long DHS officials will hold off on sending Mexican asylum-seekers, including families, to Guatemala, but multiple cases of Mexican nationals who were due to be deported to Guatemala were instead moved to a separate program, according to a separate source with knowledge of the move.

These asylum-seekers were instead pushed into the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (HARP), which slashes the time Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States have to prepare their immigration cases and aims to speed up a decision while they're in government custody.

The Trump administration says the plan to deport asylum-seekers to Guatemala is a key element in its strategy to deter migration at the border and restrict asylum-seekers from entering the US. Advocates and asylum officers previously told BuzzFeed News that the unprecedented plan lacks legality and organization and will lead to immigrants being placed in dangerous circumstances.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A “resource guide” on Guatemala was given to asylum officers as part of materials to implement a controversial policy to deport adult asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala. The guide, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, relies primarily on public sources: academic publications, research from Human Rights Watch and other organizations, and news reports.

The materials include information on pervasive violence against women in the country, killings of indigenous activists, the prevalence of the notorious gang MS-13, and a link to a research paper that states “a culture of violence and impunity pervades all of Guatemalan society today.”

In recent months, the administration has been concerned about an increase of Mexican nationals arrested at the border. In December, Ken Cuccinelli, the second in command at the Department of Homeland Security, said that Mexicans could be sent to Guatemala as part of the agreement.

Adolfo Flores contributed reporting.

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