Asylum agreement between the United States and Guatemala erodes democracy and disregards causes of migration

Asylum agreement between the United States and Guatemala erodes democracy and disregards causes of migration

CHICAGO, July 27, 2019 – Yesterday, the governments of the United States and Guatemala announced a new agreement that would cut off access to asylum in the U.S for the vast majority of people who travel through Guatemala.  Under the agreement, migrants who have traveled through Guatemala and seek asylum in the US will be promptly returned to Guatemala.  The agreement excludes unaccompanied minors and those who arrive to the United States with a visa. The agreement was announced in spite of court decisions in both countries deeming it unconstitutional.  Óscar Chacón, executive director of Alianza Americas, has released the following statement:

“This agreement ignores court rulings in both countries and is the direct result of pressure from tariffs that the United States has threatened to levy on a country that is economically dependent on the United States.  Additionally, it ignores the insecure conditions and lack of institutional capacity to process asylum claims in Guatemala. The agreement runs contrary to the Guatemalan Constitution, US asylum and migration policies, and international treaties on human rights and refugees that have been ratified by both countries.

On July 14, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the highest judicial court in the country, issued a ruling on the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch to sign on to such an agreement with the United States. The Court ruled that, given additional obligations the agreement would require from the State, the agreement must also be subject to Congressional approval.  However, yesterday the Morales government announced it would move forward with negotiations with the United States to avoid economic repercussions. That afternoon, the agreement was signed by both countries.

Additionally, on July 24 a federal judge in San Francisco overruled a Trump administration rule requiring migrants arriving at the southern border to first seek asylum in a country of transit.  The court decision deemed the rule illegal, stating that the conditions and infrastructure in Mexico and Guatemala were not safe or sufficient to address a significant increase in applications for asylum.

The agreement between the United States and Guatemala is a violation of migrants’ rights to seek asylum in a country where they feel safe and contradicts the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.  Guatemala is not a country of refuge: more than 30,000 Guatemalans have sought asylum in the United States, according to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Ongoing economic and security issues make it next to impossible for asylum seekers to safely establish themselves in Guatemala.

Despite these realities, President Trump threatened additional threats of tariffs on Guatemalan imports if the Morales government refused to sign this latest agreement.  Once again, the Trump administration has demonstrated a complete rejection and discrimination against people who need protection, particularly those arriving from Latin America.  This is a decision clearly based in racial and xenophobic prejudices, which have been part of an agenda founded on white supremacy and Trump’s re-election strategy for 2020. The government has once again failed to recognize that people will continue to flee as long as their lives remain at risk in their countries of origin.

The agreement erodes democratic institutions in a fragile country with a weak president, who has been threatened into contradicting a ruling from the highest court in the country.  Ironically, this very sort of institutional failure contributes to driving so many people to flee Guatemala and other Central American countries.

We reject this decision, which is less an agreement than an act of extortion and runs contrary to democratic ideals upheld by both countries.  Every day the Trump administration finds new ways to undermine democracy, maintain racist and xenophobic rhetoric, and erode the right to asylum, a pillar of international protection.  Meanwhile, the causes that drive the mass exodus of migrants from Central America continue to be ignored. Instead of improving the conditions that force so many to flee their homes and seek asylum, today’s policy will force more people to leave Guatemala.”

Alianza Americas is a network of 50 immigrant-led organizations representing more than 100,000 families across the United States. It is the only US-based organization rooted in Latino and Caribbean immigrant communities that works transnationally to create an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable way of life. Learn more at

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