Guatemalan and U.S. leaders to discuss migration, asylum deal seen close

by Reuters
Thursday, 11 July 2019 18:49 GMT

(Adds statement from the Guatemalan government, human rights groups, U.S. government source)

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY, July 11 (Reuters) - Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales will travel to Washington next week to discuss migration, among other topics, following weeks of intense negotiations aimed at declaring the Central American country a safe destination for asylum seekers.

Morales will visit U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, and "meet with U.S. Government officials to address security, migration and economic issues," the Guatemalan government said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday.

A U.S. government source briefed on the matter said Morales was expected to sign the safe third country agreement with Trump on Monday, but emphasized that some details of the agreement were still being finalized.

Trump said on June 26 that the United States and Guatemala were close to reaching a safe third country agreement as part of efforts to curb U.S.-bound migration from Central America.

Under such an agreement, Guatemala would be obliged to process asylum claims from migrants who entered its territory en route to the United States. Migrants from Honduras and El Salvador heading to the U.S.-Mexican border overland usually cross into Mexico via Guatemala.

The apprehension by U.S. authorities of Central American migrants, including large numbers of families and asylum seekers, reached a more than decade high in May. Trump has applied increasing pressure on Mexico and Central America to stem the flows.

Civil society groups have raised concerns about the categorization of Guatemala as a "safe third country," given the impoverished country's weak human rights record and high levels of criminal violence.

"This agreement would be an egregious violation of law and common decency," Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said. Guatemala's lack of security could trap migrants escaping violence in El Salvador and Honduras in a situation similar to the one they are trying to flee, he said.

Last month, Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who has been leading negotiations with the United States, said the asylum policy was still being discussed. Declaring Guatemala a safe third country would require changes to its immigration laws.

Degenhart said on Thursday he was not immediately available to comment on the details of Morales' visit to Washington.

Cracking down on immigration has been a long-standing priority for Trump. In June, he moved to cut U.S. aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras over the rise in migration numbers, but added that Guatemala "is much different than it was under past administrations."

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by David Shepardson and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Sonya Hepinstall and Rosalba O'Brien)

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