By Royce Murray (immigrationimpact.com)
The Trump administration signed an agreement with Guatemala last Friday that appears to allow the U.S. government to send certain asylum applicants to Guatemala, forcing them to seek asylum there. Framed by the president as a “Safe Third Country” agreement, this move will place thousands of asylum seekers at risk in a country ill-prepared to process a high volume of applications for protection and with safety problems of its own.
To avoid sending people back to a country where they could be seriously harmed, U.S. law allows any person who reaches the border to apply for asylum, with limited exceptions. Among those exceptions are individuals who could be removed to another country (Safe Third Country) where their life would not be endangered if the United States has an agreement with that country to receive them. This would not include people who are nationals of that country.
The United States has only one Safe Third Country agreement – with Canada – in place since 2002. It requires asylum seekers who arrive at a port of entry along the U.S. northern border to return to the country they just passed through (the U.S. or Canada) and apply for protection there. The agreement was made with a general understanding that both nations were safe countries whose asylum systems were sufficiently robust to handle the processing of those claims.