García Joins Torres and 14 Members of Congress in Urging Acting DHS Secretary McAleenan to Immediately Rescind “Safe Third County” Agreement with Guatemala

July 31, 2019
Press Release
Guatemala is one of the most violent and impoverished countries in the world—not a safe place for vulnerable asylum seekers to seek refuge

Washington, D.C.  Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04) joined a group of 15 Members of Congress, led by Congresswoman Norma Torres (CA-35) in a letter to Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan voicing strong objections to the recent signing of the “safe third country” agreement with the government of Guatemala. The letter cites the country’s lack of capacity to economically and socially integrate a substantial number of asylum seekers and its elevated levels of public corruption, poverty, and violence, which drive migration from Guatemala to the United States.

“While we have long supported regional resettlement options for Central American refugees, this ‘safe third country’ agreement blatantly ignores the conditions driving migration from Guatemala to the United States and may even serve to exacerbate them. We strongly urge you to immediately rescind this deeply misguided agreement and focus instead on strengthening the region’s refugee protection capacity and expanding legal, safe pathways for asylum seekers,” the lawmakers wrote.

In addition to García and Torres, the letter was signed by Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY), Donald S. Beyer (D-VA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lou Correa (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA).

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary McAleenan,

We write to express our strong objections to your signing of a “safe third country agreement” with the government of Guatemala. Under a “safe third country” agreement, asylum seekers who request asylum after passing through Guatemala could be returned to Guatemala without the ability to seek asylum in the United States. Not only would this effectively deny access to the United States’ asylum process to many individuals and families who potentially merit international protection, it is also fundamentally unworkable and clearly inappropriate for a country, such as Guatemala, that is facing elevated levels of public corruption, poverty, and violence.

Guatemala is not a safe place for vulnerable asylum seekers to seek refuge. At 26.1 homicides per 100,000, Guatemala remains one of the most violent countries in Latin America. In fact, the United States Department of State maintains a travel advisory for Guatemala, noting that “[V]iolent crime, such as armed robbery and murder, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.” Moreover, an estimated 86,000 Guatemalans have pending applications for asylum in countries across the world.  

Nor does Guatemala possess the capacity to economically and socially integrate any substantial number of asylum seekers. More than 50 percent of Guatemalans live below the poverty line; indigenous Guatemalans are disproportionately impacted. Furthermore, current economic growth of less than 3 percent is unlikely to lead to enough job creation to reduce poverty in the near term. 

While we have long supported regional resettlement options for Central American refugees, this “safe third country” agreement blatantly ignores the conditions driving migration from Guatemala to the United States and may even serve to exacerbate them. We strongly urge you to immediately rescind this deeply misguided agreement and focus instead on strengthening the region’s refugee protection capacity and expanding legal, safe pathways for asylum seekers.

Sincerely,

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