As Mexico and Central America cave to pressure from Trump, US courts slow detention of minors

On Wednesday, September 25, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has been linked to a drug trafficking case in New York courts, reached an asylum agreement with the Trump Administration. Image captured from La Prensa.

October 2, 2019 – Under pressure from the Trump administration, the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador agreed to asylum agreements with the United States in recent weeks.  On September 25, it was Honduras’ turn.  With this latest agreement, the Trump administration has fully realized its strategy to weaken asylum rights and force Mexico and Central America to contain the mass exodus of migrants from the region.  Once these agreements have been ratified, people who come to the United States seeking asylum could be sent back without their consent to Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras to seek asylum in those countries.  Under this new measure, people who have fled countries will find themselves trapped in the northern triangle of Central America – one of the most violent regions in the world. These three countries lack adequate security, economic opportunity or due process measures to protect the safety or dignity if asylum-seekers.  Additionally, other agreements between the United States and Honduras would create expedited deportation processes for people who have been apprehended in the US, without first requiring confirmation of whether they are actually Honduran or not.   The only option for preventing the implementation of these agreements now rests with final ratification in each country. It will be important to monitor whether the checks and balances and accountability systems in legislative or judicial bodies will intervene to uphold and protect the humanity of those seeking asylum.  

Despite their success with extorting weak countries through asylum agreements, the Trump administration’s agenda has been met with pushback from federal courts. On September 27, the Federal District Court for the Central District of California blocked the administration’s attempts to modify the Flores Settlement to allow indefinite detainment of migrant children who are unaccompanied or arrive with their families.  The court ruling stated that Congress, not the Trump Administration, must approve any action to modify the Flores Settlement.

Inter-American Human Rights Commission urges protection for migrant children

Civil society organizations from Mexico and Central America, along with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) denounced grave human rights violations of children and adolescents travelling through Central America and Mexico.  In a hearing on September 26 at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC, the international body expressed concern over the situation facing young migrants and spoke in favor of a transnational protection mechanism.  According to data provided by organizations at the hearing, 32,500 children were detained in Mexico in the first six months of 2019 alone, over half of whom were under the age of 12.  Reports also showed that 8,272 children in detention were from El Salvador, 24,638 from Guatemala, and 14,785 from Honduras.

Trump “thrilled” with Mexico’s role in containing migrants

When President Trump speaks of building a wall between Mexico and the United States, he is referring not only to a physical wall, but also a regional strategy to contain migration.  Mexico has played a central role in this anti-immigrant strategy by dramatically increasing detentions, deportations, and militarization of immigration enforcement. In a recent trip to the border, Trump said he was “thrilled” with the role Mexico is playing in the region.  Trump has been clearly using these efforts to score cheap political points, by saying that he is “using Mexico” to protect the US border because “the Democrats won’t change loopholes and asylum.”

Unfortunately, Mexico and Central America’s compliance with US demands have resulted in tragic consequences for vulnerable populations.  In addition to clear violations against young Central American migrants, African migrants have been stuck in the south of Mexico and declared “stateless” by the administration and are now left without protection or a way out.