US extorts Guatemala into signing asylum agreement

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales hosted Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, on August 1, 2019. Source: @GuatemalaGob on Twitter.

August 1, 2019 A week ago, new threats from the Trump administration to set tariffs on remittances and ban Guatemalans from entering the United States generated turmoil in  Guatemala. Guatemalan President, Jimmy Morales, along with his private sector allies, blamed a recent ruling from Guatemala’s Constitutional Court for these threats. On July 26, the unrelenting pressure from the United States resulted in the two presidents signing an official “asylum agreement”.  The net result will be that Guatemala will accept persons sent by the US, which will be able to seek asylum in Guatemala, rather than in the US.  

The agreement generated shockwaves throughout Guatemala and the region.  Both domestic and international observers continue to raise red flags about the negative impact of the agreement and the ongoing efforts from the US government to outsource immigration control by extorting governments in Mexico and Guatemala.

Meanwhile, political debate continues to embroil multiple branches of the Guatemalan government, as Congress and the Constitutional Court have requested a justification from the Morales government for its actions. The signing of this agreement represents a serious attack on Guatemala’s institutions given the court decision prohibiting such an agreement, just a few weeks prior.   

Ongoing efforts by the United States to block asylum seekers have also generated concern at the international level.  Days before the agreement between the US and Guatemala was signed, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern about the negative implications the agreement will have on migrants in the region.  Organizations such as the Regional Network of Civil Organizations for Migration (RROCM), of which Alianza Americas is a part, have expressed their rejection of this agreement.  

As representatives of civil society, we continue to insist that measures to contain and punish migrants will not be effective as long as the causes that drive forced displacement continue to be ignored.

Mexico feels the consequences of “Remain in Mexico ” 

The Mexican government continues to confront the humanitarian challenge caused by the United States’ “Remain in Mexico” policy, as more and more asylum seekers are returned to Mexico to await their cases.  Mexican authorities recently announced the opening of a shelter in Tijuana to serve people who have been returned to this border city. According to the announcement, the hostel will have the capacity to offer basic services and food to approximately 4,000 people.  The Mexican government has reported that, as of June 24, 15,079 people have been returned to Ciudad Juárez, Tijuana and Mexicali under the “Remain in Mexico” policy. 

Migrant children remain detained in Mexico despite Court order

The practice of detaining migrant children also persists in Mexico, despite a court order requiring the National Migration Institute to develop an alternate plan granting freedom to children detained in border stations.  The court order was achieved through strategic pressure from civil society, and is intended to protect the rights of child migrants.  The rights of children, including their rights to freedom and family unity, must be respected by Mexican authorities and remain central to a broader agenda for human rights and migration policies.

Alarming harassment of Mexican shelters and human rights defenders

Migration containment policies in Mexico have been accompanied by a strategy to intimidate and harass those who are providing humanitarian aid to migrants.  Since these policies have gone into effect, the National Guard has repeatedly attempted to enter shelters in Tabasco, Coahuila, Tijuana, Sonor and Chiapas under the guise of conducting immigration reviews.  These attempts run counter to Article 76 of Mexican Migration Law, which prevents any authority from conducting verification visits in civil society spaces where migrants are being housed.  These actions provide further evidence of the implications of recent agreements with the United States, incentivizing further discrimination against migrants and criminalization of human rights workers providing humanitarian aid.