US, El Sal­vador sign asy­lum deal, but with de­tails vague

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Colleen Long and Astrid Galvan

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.

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