US an­nounces mi­grant deal with Hon­duras

Pact would send peo­ple to one of the most vi­o­lent na­tions

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Nick Miroff

WASH­ING­TON — 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 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 asy­lum­seek­ers from its 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 Don­ald Trump.

More than 250,000 Hon­durans have crossed the U.S. border in the past 11 months, many fil­ing pro­tec­tion claims that have added to the soar­ing num­ber of asy­lum cases clog­ging U.S. courts.

That DHS would en­ter into such an ac­cord with the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment a month af­ter its pres­i­dent was named by U.S. pros­e­cu­tors as a co-con­spir­a­tor in a drug case is a sign of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ea­ger­ness to ar­mor the U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem against a new surge of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans.

Last week, DHS act­ing sec­re­tary Kevin McAleenan signed a sim­i­lar deal with El Sal­vador, af­ter reach­ing an ac­cord with the gov­ern­ment of Gu­atemala in July. None of those pacts have been im­ple­mented, but once in place, U.S. of­fi­cials say they will have the abil­ity to re­di­rect asy­lum ap­pli­cants from the U.S. border to the same three coun­tries that ac­counted for the ma­jor­ity of un­law­ful mi­gra­tion.

McAleenan and other U.S. of­fi­cials said asy­lum-seek­ers should try to find refuge “as close to home” as pos­si­ble.

A se­nior DHS of­fi­cial who de­scribed the Hon­duras agree­ment to re­porters Wed­nes­day said the ac­cord would al­low the United States to re­di­rect asy­lum-seek­ers to the coun­tries through which they tran­sit while on the way to the United States — if they didn’t seek pro­tec­tion in those coun­tries first.

An asy­lum-seeker from Nicaragua or Venezuela, for ex­am­ple, would be asked to choose among Gu­atemala, Hon­duras or El Sal­vador as places to seek pro­tec­tion, un­der the sce­nario the se­nior DHS of­fi­cial de­scribed.

Im­mi­gra­tion at­tor­neys and rights ad­vo­cates have de­nounced the DHS agree­ments as a fla­grant ab­ro­ga­tion of long­stand­ing U.S. le­gal pro­tec­tions ex­tended to those flee­ing per­se­cu­tion. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged that their goal is to de­ter mi­grants from us­ing U.S. hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grams as a way to avoid de­ten­tion and de­por­ta­tion at the border.

“If you don’t have in­tegrity in the sys­tem, if you can’t ef­fec­tu­ate im­mi­gra­tion re­sults as peo­ple ar­rive at the border, and they’re in­vited to come up with a prom­ise they’ll be re­leased into the next coun­try, they’re go­ing to keep com­ing,” McAleenan said Wed­nes­day on Fox News.

McAleenan has made sev­eral trips to Hon­duras in re­cent months seek­ing a deal, and he met with Her­nan­dez and other se­nior of­fi­cials on Aug. 27 in Wash­ing­ton. DHS of­fi­cials say the agree­ment will be key to un­lock­ing U.S. in­vest­ment and a re­newed com­mit­ment to growth in the re­gion.

DHS of­fi­cials say the ac­cord signed with Hon­duras also will ex­pand in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing and im­prove co­op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing transna­tional crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions. Hernán­dez, the Hon­duran pres­i­dent, was ac­cused by U.S. pros­e­cu­tors in New York last month of con­spir­ing with other top of­fi­cials to pro­tect co­caine traf­fick­ers, in­clud­ing a crime ring al­legedly led by the pres­i­dent’s younger brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernán­dez.

U.S. pros­e­cu­tors de­scribed the pres­i­dent’s brother as a “a vi­o­lent, multi-ton drug traf­ficker” af­ter tak­ing him into cus­tody in Mi­ami last year. He has pleaded not guilty to weapons and drug charges.

Asked whether the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion took the pend­ing charges into ac­count while hash­ing out the mi­gra­tion ac­cord with Hernán­dez, the se­nior DHS of­fi­cial de­clined to an­swer.

ED­UARDO VERDUGO/AP

Sol­diers en­ter a billiards hall to frisk the lo­cals as part of a rou­tine pa­trol in Tegu­ci­galpa, Hon­duras. The U.S. gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ests in Hon­duras start with bat­tling drug traf­fick­ing.

TI­MOTHY A. CLARY/GETTY-AFP

Pres­i­dent Juan Or­lando Hernán­dez has been named as a co-con­spir­a­tor in a U.S. drug traf­fick­ing case.

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