Trump’s migration pact with the Guatemalan president

By | July 27, 2019

For The Economist, R.E. writes:

Honduras has a little over 9m people—or at least it did. Around 2.2% of the population have been snatched by agents at America’s southern border since October. More still have slipped past; others dream of an escape. Your correspondent is writing this from Tegucigalpa, the capital, where a mood of puzzled gloom prevails among those pondering the exodus. The government, sensing a harsh verdict on its rule, prefers not to mention it. International agencies wonder why programmes to stem the flow have not worked as hoped. More jobs will fix things, the wisdom goes. But stories like that of La Flor de Copan, a cigar factory in west Honduras which saw 47 workers quit last year to join a “caravan” of northbound migrants, deflate even the arch-optimists.

Does Donald Trump see what others miss? He thinks so. His presidency has been guided by the belief that preventing migration from Central America requires toughness, not compassion. Aid is a bargaining chip to be dangled, not a seed to be planted. The unhappier an end migrants meet, the less likely others are to follow. Such thinking is used to justify the separation of parents from children at the US-Mexico border, and a new rule this month that migrants who fail to seek asylum—and get rejected—in a country they pass through en route to America will not receive shelter. On July 24th a court blocked this rule, because the law states that the deportation of ineligible migrants to a third country must be “pursuant to a bilateral or multilateral agreement”. The United States’ only such deal is with Canada, through which migrants do not pass.

On July 26th Mr Trump at last got the deal he has long coveted: a safe-third country agreement with Guatemala. It allows America to deport to Guatemala any migrant who passed through Guatemala en route. In practice that is everyone except Mexicans and Guatemalans themselves (unaccompanied children are also exempt). Mexico, faced with threats from Mr Trump over tariffs, resisted pressure from American negotiators to strike such an agreement. Mexico’s government could not stomach the troubles of processing tens of thousands of migrants each month, nor the affront to national dignity of declaring its own country safe for migrants while so many citizens do not feel it is safe for them.

Neither qualm seems to bother Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales. Against the will of virtually all of his country’s political class, he negotiated the deal in secret for weeks. Now the work begins to justify it, by insisting that Guatemala is a good place to shelter refugees. [Continue reading…]

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