To stop refugees from crossing the southern border into the United States, the U.S. reportedly may begin to deny asylum seekers who are Mexican citizens to seek refuge in the country. Instead, they may be sent to Guatemala, a ‘safe third country’. The controversial ‘safe third country’ agreement was created so that any migrant who crossed through Guatemala on their way to seek asylum in the U.S, would be required to apply for asylum in Guatemala first. This policy is already in use and the first asylum seeker, who is from Honduras, was sent to Guatemala. Before the addition of these Central American countries, the United States already had a similar agreement with Canada, although the fate of this agreement is uncertain.
In 2019, Mexico became the country with the largest number of citizens attempting to enter the U.S. as refugees and taken into custody. There are many reasons for this shift, including several initiatives to decrease the number the Central American refugees, such as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. The ‘Remain in Mexico’ was implemented at the end of January, 2019, and meant that people seeking asylum to the U.S. would be sent to Mexico to wait for the duration of their U.S. immigration proceedings. The Latin America Working group called this policy illegal, stating that the rules “break U.S. law by ignoring legislation passed by Congress on the process asylum seekers must undergo at the border – violating their rights to due process. It goes against international law by potentially violating individuals’ rights not to be returned to danger.”
Despite the criticism, the Remain in Mexico policy continues and Trump’s Safe Third Country Agreement With Guatemala may expand to include Mexican immigrants, despite suggestions that say the safe third-country agreement will do little to solve the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Asylum seekers who are Mexican citizens might be sent south to one of the now ‘safe third countries’ in Central America. The idea is that by sending Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala, the U.S. is in accordance with the law because they are not keeping them in their country or nationality or residence. However, if it goes against international law to send refugees to the dangerous environment they are escaping, does the new initiative to direct Mexican refugees south to Central America resolve this problem? The Los Angeles Times claims no. On top of “Guatemala’s own struggles with corruption, violence and poverty”, the country does not currently have an existing secure asylum system and the United Nations claims that Guatemala won’t have the capacity to handle large increases of refugees seeking protection. Between January and November of 2018, only 262 people applied for asylum in Guatemala. For reference, in 2018 alone, 34,800 Guatemalans sought new asylum claims; fleeing the situation that the U.S. government is sending refugees to.
For Mexican citizens seeking to cross the border into the United States, this means the possibility of being sent to an equally bad or worse situation from which they are fleeing, with no guarantee of safety.
The rule will potentially start with Guatemala and then expand to El Salvador and Honduras, which have entered similar agreements.