No biggie, just the last link in a fence that might end up mooting much of the asylum debate in Congress. While most of the attention today has focused on Ukraine, the White House announced a new agreement with Honduras to take any refugees seeking asylum first rather than the US. That makes three nations with safe-third-country agreements in Central America that effectively blocks the land route for asylum seekers from south of Mexico:
The Trump administration reached a deal with the government of Honduras to enhance the Central American nation’s asylum capacity.
The agreement, signed Wednesday, is similar to agreements previously reached with the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told reporters on a phone call.
The official said migrants who had an opportunity to seek protection in Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala will be returned from the U.S. border to seek asylum or protection in one of those countries under the recent agreements, including the new Honduras accord.
The U.S. and international organizations will work to help build upon Honduras’s current systems and processes to expand its asylum capacity, the official said.
The Trump administration has attempted to get around the gridlock in Congress by using its diplomatic authority to deal with waves of asylum seekers. Most of these cases turn out not to qualify, with the request dealing with economic issues rather than oppression. In 2017, the most recent year for which DHS has statistics, the US received 139,801 affirmative asylum cases, where the person applies on arrival, and processed an additional 119,303 defensive asylum cases (filed when the DoJ attempts to deport a person). Only 26,568 were approved combined for both categories, for an approval rate of 10.3%.
How many of the other 90% remained in the country anyway is unknown, but it’s likely to be a lot. Under US law, without a safe-third-country agreement in the way of these asylum seekers, the US had to house them even though 85-90% of those applications would end up being denied. The Trump administration had pressed Congress to act in tightening up asylum restrictions in order to disincentivize the flow through Mexico, but even under Republican control Congress didn’t do much of anything to deal with the issue. With Democrats in charge, that has become an even less likely path for progress.
So now the US doesn’t have to take them at all, and perhaps more importantly, Mexico doesn’t have to house them either. President López Obrador has managed to avoid signing a similar safe-third-country agreement with Trump, but instead has “voluntarily” housed asylum seekers while cases get adjudicated. Now neither country has to deal with those cases from refugees that transit through Guatemala, El Salvador, and now Honduras. They either have to go back to their homes south of that picket fence or into those three countries, which is probably not where they want to end up.
The disincentives are obvious enough for the media to accuse the administration of heartlessness over the prospects. And, perhaps, it’s a point well taken:
The Trump administration announced a migration deal Wednesday that will give U.S. immigration authorities the ability to send asylum seekers from the border to Honduras, one of the most violent and unstable nations in the world.
Department of Homeland Security officials reached the accord with the government of president Juan Orlando Hernández, who is embroiled in allegations of government corruption and charges that he and others have been operating the nation as a criminal enterprise — Hernández has been named as a co-conspirator in a major U.S. drug trafficking case.
The deal paves the way for the United States to take asylum seekers from the U.S. border and ship them to a nation with one of the highest murder rates in the world, a country with gang wars that have fueled waves of mass migration and multiple “caravans” to the United States that became a major irritant to President Trump.
Those concerns are not at all unfounded. The Washington Post is correct about the murder rates, by the way. According to the World Atlas, Honduras has the worst in the world with 90.4 per 100,000 people (we rank 111th at 4.7). El Salvador is fifth at 41.2, and Guatemala is sixth at 39.9. Belize, which is the one gap left in the Trump administration’s picket fence, comes in fourth at 44.7.
Needless to say, this stretches the concept of a “safe” third country to its maximum capacity. However, the same can be said about the “waves of mass migration and multiple caravans” in relation to our border-security capacity. The people already within those countries deserve a safer life, but it’s up to Honduras et al to resolve their public safety issues rather than send its fruits en masse through Mexico to our borders. If people from countries south of the picket fence know that they can’t get past them to the US, they might not be inclined to make matters worse by migrating illegally through Central America any longer, too.
If the Trump administration can hold these nations to their agreements, they will have solved a significant chunk of the border-security and illegal-immigration issue themselves. If Congress isn’t satisfied with those solutions, perhaps they should start working in good faith on better ones.