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The Trump White House Wants "Safe Third Country" Deals With Central American Countries By October

Homeland security officials have been directed to secure “safe third country”–style agreements with Honduras and El Salvador by Oct. 1.

Posted on September 9, 2019, at 7:36 p.m. ET

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan speaks with President Trump at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

The White House has directed Department of Homeland Security officials to secure “safe third country”–style agreements, which require asylum-seekers traveling through a country to first seek protection there, with two more Central American countries by the end of the month in a bid to slash immigration to the US, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The documents were developed as briefing materials for a planned meeting between acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan and the new Honduran ambassador to the US to discuss a potential agreement.

DHS officials want to push Honduran leaders to agree to a deal to help stem the flow of asylum-seekers attempting to reach the US by pointing to a reduction in immigration after signing a similar agreement with Guatemala, according to the documents. The White House has directed DHS officials to secure the agreements with Honduras and El Salvador by Oct. 1, the documents state.

The Trump administration has previously tried to secure a series of agreements with Mexico and other Central American countries, such as Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, as a strategy to block asylum-seekers from reaching the southern US border. Advocates and experts have long pointed out that such agreements would leave asylum-seekers in precarious conditions in countries that are not able to offer adequate protections.

The US government has warned travelers about visiting Honduras since 2012 because of its high crime rates and noted that no major urban areas in the country are free of violent crime. The Overseas Security Advisory Council wrote in a recent report that Honduran law enforcement officials are often unable to adequately solve crimes and public transportation should be avoided. The US State Department warns American travelers to “reconsider travel to Honduras due to crime.”

John Moore / Getty Images

US immigration agents supervise as a Guatemalan border officer speaks with a mother and child before deporting them back to Honduras, Aug. 27.

In July, the Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala with the country’s president, Jimmy Morales, that would force asylum-seekers to first seek protection there. While the White House has celebrated the deal, the agreement has yet to take effect because it has not been ratified by the Guatemalan Congress.

Still, DHS officials want McAleenan to detail to Honduran Ambassador María Dolores Agüero that news of the signed agreement had already paid dividends by keeping Hondurans from traveling to the US.

A US Customs and Border Protection intelligence report from early September showed that “thousands” of Honduran immigrants who traveled to Guatemala have chosen to remain there instead of traveling north due to an understanding that immigration policies have toughened in the US and Mexico, according to the documents. A growing number of those Honduran immigrants are also choosing to apply for asylum in Guatemala because of the changes, the report said.

The briefing document prepared for McAleenan suggests that he highlight the report’s findings and advocate that a potential agreement with other countries in the region would strengthen the deal with Guatemala. DHS officials suggested McAleenan give draft agreements in Spanish and English to Agüero to take back to Honduras.

In August, Honduras’s foreign minister told reporters that they had yet to receive language or a proposal regarding a safe third country agreement with the US, but said that he would look into the possibility if it were suggested. In late August, McAleenan met with Honduran leaders and issued a joint statement with the country about regional migration flows.

On Monday, acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan detailed how administration officials are discussing similar agreements with Central American countries.

“We continue to talk to not only the Northern Triangle countries, you know, obviously, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, but also Panama — you know, any country that really can step up and is part of the immigration crisis that really is a regional issue,” he said.

CORRECTION

Jimmy Morales is the current president of Guatemala. An earlier version of this post misstated his title.

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