Guatemalans React To Trump Administration's New Asylum Rule

Jul 15, 2019
Originally published on July 15, 2019 6:45 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As we just heard, the Trump administration has been leaning on Mexico and Guatemala to become safe third countries, and we're going to hear from one of those countries now. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Guatemala City. Hi there.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What is the reaction in Guatemala to this new rule from the Trump administration?

KAHN: Earlier today, I was speaking with opponents of the government's plan to become a safe third country. So as you can imagine, many were just appalled at Trump's latest move. They just say that this country is not safe. It cannot be a haven for asylum-seekers or refugees here. It's just not capable. It doesn't have an asylum policy and plan in place to accept large numbers of migrants. And it's just another move to create chaos and to create problems in the region.

I'm actually at a migrant shelter right now, where I'm speaking to the director of the migrant shelter. And he just said, it's becoming a vicious circle where President Trump wants Salvadorans to stay in Guatemala, Guatemalans to San Salvador, Hondurans to stay in Mexico, where the root problems and the troubles that are pushing people out of this region aren't being dealt with.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what you're hearing from people at that migrant shelter. I imagine there are a lot of people from El Salvador and Honduras trying to seek refuge there. What are they saying about this?

KAHN: I met this one family here of eight members of one family that are - they just said they couldn't see themselves getting to the United States, so they've started the asylum process here in Guatemala. It's a long process. It's not a very well-defined process, and it's difficult. But they say that they can't go back to El Salvador, and they are very fearful that if they were to get to the United States that their children would be taken away from them. So they've decided to stay here and see if they can - and find some sort of safe haven in Guatemala.

It's a long, difficult process, and people say it's not very safe here at this time.

SHAPIRO: Now, Guatemala's Constitutional Court said that becoming a safe third country would be a very grave move, harmful to Guatemalans. Explain what the court said and what impact that has.

KAHN: Well, it's quite curious because the court was asked to rule on whether the president can sign a safe third country agreement with President Trump. And it was brought to the court's attention by three former foreign ministers who said that the president of Guatemala was overstepping his authority by signing any such agreement, that he had no constitutional right to do that. They brought this up to the Constitutional Court, and they actually won an injunction barring the president of Guatemala from signing a safe third country with the Trump administration. And, in fact, the president of Guatemala canceled his visit today he was supposed to have with President Trump. It just means that he can no longer sign any sort of agreement.

But the move that President Trump made today says that anybody first entering Guatemala would have to ask for asylum, essentially making Guatemala a third safe country de facto. The people that I spoke to and those three foreign ministers said that the United States cannot unilaterally make Guatemala take in asylum-seekers. So it's a stalemate right now. We'll have to see what happens.

SHAPIRO: What's the reaction been from other countries in the region that are affected by this, like Mexico, for example?

KAHN: Well, Mexico's foreign minister did speak today about this specifically, and he said that Mexico does not agree with any measure that limits access to asylum. He said that any designation of Mexico as a third safe country would have to come from Mexico's Congress. And so he was - as Mexico has done, he was sort of walking this fine line by not outwardly rejecting what President Trump has said, trying to appease him some way, but also trying to stand Mexico's firm ground where they have long said that they will not become this third safe country.

But we'll have to see if Mexico's Congress does approve such a move. President's party says that they will become a safe third country.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Thank you very much.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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