US, El Salvador sign asylum deal, but with details vague
NEW YORK — The United States on Friday signed an agreement to help make one of Central America’s most violent countries, El Salvador, a haven for migrants seeking asylum, but provided few details about how it will unfold.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and El Salvador’s foreign minister, Alexandra Hill Tinoco, signed the “cooperative asylum agreement” in a live-streamed press conference. They lauded the two countries for working together to stem migration to the U.S. but provided few details about when the agreement takes effect, who is affected and how.
Instead, McAleenan, who called the agreement “a big step forward,” and Hill Tinoco discussed U.S. assistance in making El Salvador a safer and more prosperous place for its citizens. Hill Tinoco talked about ending gang violence.
“I mean, those individuals threaten people, those individuals kill people, those individuals request for the poorest and most vulnerable population to pay just to cross the street,” she said, adding that her country needs more investment from the U.S. and other nations.
The agreement, first reported by The Associated Press, could lead to migrants from third countries obtaining refuge in El Salvador even though many Salvadorans are fleeing their nation and seeking asylum in the United States. A Salvadoran delegation has been in the U.S. this week to discuss the matter.
It’s the latest effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to force asylum-seekers in Central America to seek refuge outside the United States. Immigration officials also are forcing more than 42,000 people to remain in Mexico as their cases play out and have changed policy to deny asylum to anyone who transited through a third country en route to the southern border of the U.S.
Condemnation from migrant and refugee advocates was swift.
“Today’s announcement of a ‘cooperative asylum agreement’ between the United States and El Salvador is yet another example of the U.S. government’s callous disregard for the safety and lives of people fleeing violence in Central America,” said Alison Parker, managing director for the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch. “El Salvador does not have the capacity to keep its own nationals safe, much less migrants from any other country.” Parker added that only 18 people are seeking asylum inside El Salvador.
McAleenan also signed a so-called “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala, but officials in that country are still working out how it would be implemented.
The arrangement with El Salvador was not described as a “safe third country” agreement, under which nations agree that their respective countries are safe enough and have robust enough asylum systems, so that if migrants transit through one of the countries they must remain there instead of moving on to another country.
The U.S. officially has only one such agreement in place, with Canada.