Guatemala Agrees to Receive Refugees After Donald Trump Tariff Threat

  • Kevin K. McAleenan described it as a "safe third country" agreement, but Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales avoided calling it that way.
  • The signing of the agreement provoked adverse reactions in Guatemala because the negotiations were secret.
  • “We will have to deal with thousands of Hondurans and Salvadorans — more than 100 percent."

Guatemala has signed an immigration agreement with the United States on Friday, according to which people who want to apply for refuge or asylum in the United States and have passed through Guatemala must do so in the latter country. The pact was closed a few days after Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on the Central American country if it does not accept more asylum seekers.

James Ernesto Morales Cabrera (born 18 March 1969) is the 50th and current president of Guatemala. He is a former comic actor who won the 2015 Guatemalan presidential election.

The interim secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin K. McAleenan, described it as a “safe third country” agreement, but Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales avoided calling it that way. A safe third country pact would require the approval of Parliament. Morales confirmed that his country and Washington negotiated agreements on topics such as the fight against organized crime, irregular migration or temporary work visas.

Morales admitted that “negotiations are continuous” to have the “best conditions for signed agreements” and added that these are related to “security issues,” another linked to “international solidarity for migrants” and another for granting of visas for temporary agricultural workers who expect it to be extended to other sectors such as tourism or construction.

Donald Trump, for his part, during a signing ceremony at the White House said that the agreement would allow easier access to farms and ranches in the United States for agricultural workers. “We have worked with Guatemala and now we can do it the right way and it will be very good for them and for the United States. This agreement will put the coyotes and traffickers [of people] out of business. They are bad people who make a lot of money with people’s misery. The agreement will provide security to those seeking legitimate asylum and will stop fraud and abuse,” the US president said. In his last negotiations with Mexico on migration, the US government tried to get Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) to agree to become a safe third country, but it did not achieve its purpose.

The signing of the agreement provoked adverse reactions in Guatemala because the negotiations were secret. A former Guatemala Foreign Minister, Edgar Gutierrez, told news reporters that the agreement constitutes a violation of Constitutional provisions. “First of all, 99.9% of Guatemalans do not know what was signed. It has been negotiated as if it were a state secret when it is not. We ignore what President Morales committed to us,” he said. He added that, with the signature, the Government incurs a serious violation of the mandate of the court.

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 16.6 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Gutierrez called on the Constitutional Court to initiate legal actions against Morales and Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, a signatory of the instrument, “for contempt because they disobey the laws.” He believes Congress is another aggrieved entity because they are deprived of a power granted by the Constitution to “approve, before it is signed, an agreement of this nature” that “modifies the Migration Code and damages the integrity of the nation.”

Former presidential candidate Manfredo Marroquín from Washington criticized the way in which the Morales Administration has handled the signing of the treaty. “It is cynicism as a state policy.”  In relation to the costs that this decision will have for Guatemala, Marroquin points out that thousands of refugees will have to be cared for, in a country unable to guarantee welfare minimums for its inhabitants. “We will have to deal with thousands of Hondurans and Salvadorans — more than 100 percent.”

The former candidate, however, retains some hope that the situation can be reversed. “The treaty will be subject to legal action in both countries. In the United States, a federal judge was clear in expressing that Guatemala does not meet the conditions to be considered a safe country. Besides, the decision also will be the subject to legal action in Guatemala.”

The constitutionalist lawyer and former Foreign Minister Gabriel Orellana Rojas reminded everyone that the country’s foreign policy is in the purview of the president, but that does not imply that treaties acquire the force of law and are incorporated into the Guatemalan legal system. “For this,” he emphasizes, “it is necessary that another requirement is met: its approval by the Congress of the Republic.” Also, he adds, with concern, that Guatemalans are unaware of what was signed. “We do not know if what was signed is valid or not,” he adds.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director for Amnesty International, stressed that Guatemala is not a safe country for those seeking asylum or for their own inhabitants. “This agreement is contrary to the constitutional ruling that prevents the president from signing an agreement like this with Donald Trump, which violates the human rights for those seeking asylum,” he said.

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Doris Mkwaya

I am a journalist, with more than 12 years of experience as a reporter, author, editor, and journalism lecturer." I've worked as a reporter, editor and journalism lecturer, and am very enthusiastic about bringing what I've learned to this site.  

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