Today the Trump administration reached an agreement which would allow the U.S. to return people who had passed through El Salvador and later applied for asylum back to that country, though it’s not being called a safe-third country agreement:
U.S. officials describe the deal as an “asylum cooperation agreement,” insisting that such an accord does not amount to what is known as a “safe third country” deal. That term has been stigmatized in Central America, in large part because it would be difficult to consider the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as a safe haven given that it has among the highest homicide rates in the world…
Asylum seekers from Nicaragua, Cuba and other nations who pass through El Salvador en route to the U.S. border would be eligible for return there under the terms of the deal, according to officials with knowledge of the accord. As part of the plan, the United States will help build an asylum system in El Salvador and in other nations in the region, seeking to fund the effort through United Nations refugee agencies.
McAleenan reached a similar deal with Guatemala in August that has yet to be implemented. The Salvadoran accord is different in a key regard: unlike Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, the Salvadoran leader is one of the most popular figures in Latin America, with an approval rating topping out at 90 percent in some polls.
The Trump administration issued a new asylum rule in July which would effectively create a similar situation with Mexico. A federal judge issued an injunction to that rule, but earlier this month the Supreme Court lifted that injunction. Mexico has declined to make a safe-third-country agreement with the U.S. but has agreed to the remain in Mexico policy which sends asylum seekers back to Mexico rather than releasing them into the United States.
The obvious problem with this agreement is that El Salvador is objectively not a great place to send anyone fleeing violence. This week the Associated Press reported that El Salvador’s murder rate had dropped substantially from last year but was still high:
El Salvador‘s justice minister says the country’s homicide rate has fallen to about 4.4 killings a day since June, about half of 2018 levels.
The country of 6.5 million people recorded 3,340 killings in 2018, or about nine a day. The bloodiest year of 2015 saw 6,425 homicides, or 17.6 a day
So things are improving dramatically but expect to see this litigated very soon, perhaps followed by another nationwide injunction which has to be appealed before this takes effect. Here’s a CBS report on the agreement: