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Trump Administration Starts Sending Certain Asylum Seekers to Guatemala

Asylum Seekers Sent to Guatemala by Trump Administration

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

It often seems that there is no limit to the policies that the Trump administration will propose to limit immigration to the United States.  Not only does the Trump administration implement its anti-immigration policies in the United States, but it also works with other countries to restrict immigration to the United States.  As an example of the Trump administration using other countries to help implement its anti-immigration policies, pursuant to an “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” signed by the United States and Guatemala, on November 19, the Trump administration started sending certain asylum seekers to Guatemala.

This “Asylum Cooperative Agreement”, signed in July, provides for United States immigration officials to force certain asylum seekers who arrive at the United States-Mexico border to first apply for asylum in Guatemala.  According to 3 government officials and notes taken by one of the officials during a training session of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) asylum officers, this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” will be implemented subject to various terms. 

First, this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” initially will be enforced at a U.S. Border Patrol station in El Paso, Texas.

Second, the first phase of enforcement of this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” will focus on adults from Honduras and El Salvador.

Third, the goal will be to process the asylum seekers subject to this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” within 72 hours. 

Fourth, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents will be responsible to decide which asylum seekers will be subject to this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” (including if asylum seekers will be subject to this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” or the “Migrant Protection Protocols” program that requires certain asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their immigration court hearings). 

Fifth, the objective will be for 10 to 15 people to be processed each day under this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” (although it was reported that only one person on November 19, and two persons on November 20, were interviewed subject to this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement”).

Sixth, this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” is not to be applied to unaccompanied children, persons with valid U.S. travel documents, or cases of public interest (such cases, which will need approval from USCIS headquarters, are viewed as highly unlikely). 

Seventh, while this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” is not intended to separate spouses, asylum seekers with same-sex marriages or common law marriages could be processed as single adults (and separated from their spouses) if they come from a country that does not recognize such marriages.

Eighth, asylum seekers are not permitted to have attorneys and other representatives present while they are being screened to determine if they are subject to this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement”.

Ninth, for purposes of this “Asylum Cooperative Agreement”, asylum officers were instructed not to ask asylum seekers whether they have a fear of being sent to Guatemala; instead, asylum seekers must affirmatively state that they have a fear of being sent to Guatemala. 

According to November 19 guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, once it is decided that an asylum seeker will be sent to Guatemala, such decision cannot be reviewed by an immigration court.

Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), told reporters in El Paso that Guatemala was setting up reception centers to process asylum seekers and that the United States and Guatemala were working on finalizing an implementation plan for the United States – Guatemala “Asylum Cooperative Agreement”.  On November 7, DHS had certified that Guatemala will provide a “full and fair procedure” for determining asylum claims. However, Guatemala has fewer than 10 employees staffing its asylum office, and, in 2018, processed just 262 asylum claims.

In addition, according to 2017 data compiled by the World Bank, the murder rate in Guatemala is five times that of the United States.  As another point of concern about Guatemala, internal DHS government briefing materials recently stated about Guatemala, “There is uncertainty as to who will provide orientation services for migrants as well as who will provide shelter, food, transportation, and other care”. Finally, on November 19, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees stated, “UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has serious concerns about the new U.S. policy on asylum . . . It is an approach at variance with international law that could result in the transfer of highly vulnerable individuals to countries where they may face life-threatening dangers”.

The impact of the United States – Guatemala “Asylum Cooperative Agreement” will likely be challenged in litigation.  As with other anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration, litigation has proven to be the best option for immigrants challenging these policies.  To be successful in immigration litigation, it is vital that immigrants hire a skilled immigration lawyer, such as the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, which has had years of experience and success in representing immigration clients.  If you need assistance with any immigration matter, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for help.