The US signed an asylum agreement Friday afternoon with Guatemala that could limit the ability of some Central American migrants to claim asylum in the US.
The agreement, which President Donald Trump announced in the Oval Office, commits Guatemala to extend asylum to migrants who seek it when they’re moving through the country. Migrants who still decide to journey to the US to claim asylum will be returned to Guatemala, according to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
“If (asylum seekers) do instead, in the hands of smugglers, make the journey all the way to the US border, they would be removable back to Guatemala, if they want to seek an asylum claim,” McAleenan told reporters Friday.
The agreement is expected to go into effect in August, after both governments work through procedural steps “to ratify and recognize the agreement,” he said.
The White House called it a “safe third agreement,” though the Guatemalan government didn’t make mention of it in its statement Friday afternoon. A “safe-third country” agreement would have the effect of preventing some migrants from applying for asylum in the US.
To that end, the agreement seems to serve that function, requiring asylum claims to be made in Guatemala. McAleenan said the term “safe-third,” however, is “not necessarily in the agreement.”
“It’s really an agreement to collaborate on access to protections for individuals that are seeking it in crossing borders in the region,” McAleenan said.
Friday’s agreement is a show of cooperation between the two countries, as they’ve done numerous times before, on the heels of the President’s frustrations with the Guatemala for not moving pressing forward with a “safe-third” agreement.
Earlier this month, the US appeared close to signing a safe-third country agreement with Guatemala. But Guatemala’s Constitutional Court blocked the Guatemalan president from signing the agreement.
Friday’s agreement comes after Trump threatened Guatemala with tariffs and remittance fees earlier this week. Trump has been putting increasing pressure on Guatemala to come to an agreement, even going as far as saying he didn’t believe the country’s court ruling prevented the signing, and threatening “very severe” consequences.
“We’re looking at something very severe with respect to Guatemala,” Trump said Wednesday, noting that he already “cut all payments” to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
This story has been updated.