CGRS Decries New Rule to Deport Asylum Seekers to Guatemala

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) decries the new Trump Administration rule implementing the Asylum “Cooperative” Agreement signed by the United States and Guatemala in July. Published today, this rule will allow the Administration to deport any non-Guatemalan seeking asylum in the United States to Guatemala. The Administration claims that this rule is necessary to manage the high number of migrants seeking asylum in the United States. In fact, it is the Administration’s deliberate mismanagement and shortsighted policies that have created chaos and suffering on both sides of the border. This new rule will only exacerbate these problems and send countless women, children, and families directly into harm’s way.

If the U.S. government claims that it lacks the capacity to receive asylum seekers, it is laughable and cynical in the extreme to pretend that Guatemala can do so. Guatemala is a small, under-resourced country around the size of Virginia. More than half of Guatemala’s people live below the national poverty line, and 23 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

Guatemala is plagued by epidemic levels of violence, which is perpetrated with virtual impunity by gangs, organized crime, and government security forces. Gender-based violence is also widespread. Guatemala’s rates of femicide (gender-motivated killings) and sexual assault are among the highest in the world, and 99 percent of violent crimes against women are committed with impunity. Over 242,000 Guatemalans have been internally displaced, and every year thousands of Guatemalans are forced to flee the country, many of them seeking safe haven in the United States. Given that Guatemala is unable to protect its own citizens, there is no reason to believe that non-Guatemalan asylum seekers deported from the United States will be safe there.

Under U.S. law, the United States may only transfer an asylum seeker to a “safe third country” if that country has a full and fair asylum process and can actually offer protection for refugees. Guatemala’s woefully inadequate asylum system processes a minuscule number of claims each year and is neither fair nor effective. CGRS partner and human rights expert Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza commented today that, “The Guatemalan government has put absolutely no thought or administrative resources into creating a system that is efficient and meets international standards.” Furthermore, Professor Roht-Arriaza stated there is evidence that Guatemala’s immigration agency is plagued with the same corruption that pervades the country’s security forces and other government authorities. “With a corrupt migration authority, asylum seekers returned to Guatemala will be highly vulnerable to extortion, exploitation, or being returned to life-threatening dangers in their home countries,” Professor Roht-Arriaza said.

This new rule is deeply unfair to Guatemala. The United States bullied the Guatemalan government into agreeing to this arrangement and has similarly coerced both El Salvador and Honduras into similar agreements, with the intent to return asylum seekers to those countries as well. Treaties signed under duress are not valid under international law. Moreover, like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are currently experiencing crisis-levels of violence. And like Guatemala, these countries are completely incapable of protecting refugees.

Nor is the new rule fair to asylum seekers. Only if an asylum seeker proactively objects to being sent to Guatemala will U.S. officials consider conducting a protection screening that could allow them to remain in the United States. And even then, our government will require the asylum seeker to prove it is more likely than not that she will be persecuted or tortured in Guatemala – an impossibly high standard for a newly arrived, unrepresented asylum seeker to meet.

“Asylum seekers who will be subjected to this new rule are not from Guatemala. Many arrive at our border with nothing but the clothes on their back,” CGRS Gender Asylum Campaign Director Kate Jastram said today. “It is absurd to expect them to explain in detail, with evidence, exactly how and why it is more likely than not that they will be persecuted or tortured there. This protection screening is a sham and will allow our government to deport countless asylum seekers to a country where their very lives will be at risk.”