President Trump officially completed an agreement with El Salvador that has been on the table for more than a year. In September 2019, the Trump administration and the government of El Salvador agreed to allow the United States to return asylum-seekers who pass through El Salvador back to that country, This means that asylum-seekers from other countries who pass through El Salvador on the way to the U.S. southern border can be returned to apply for asylum in El Salvador.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, traveled to El Salvador this week to finalize the implementation plans of the agreement. No asylum-seekers have been sent back to El Salvador yet. Similar agreements were reached with Guatemala and Honduras. A record surge of Central American families crossed the U.S. southern border seeking protection which was the reason for such agreements. U.S. courts and border security personnel were overwhelmed and processing capacity was far surpassed.
Critics jump on these agreements with Central American countries with claims that the Trump administration is not compassionate and welcoming of migrants who are vulnerable. The administration argues that this allows Central Americans a safe place to seek protection closer to home. Wolf called the agreement “a critical step in the establishment of a truly regional approach to migration, and, more specifically, to the offer of protection to those migrants who are victims of persecution.”
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele agreed to the accord, known as an Asylum Cooperation Agreement in September 2019. It is being described as a humanitarian agreement.
Under Bukele, El Salvador’s murder rate has dropped, but his government’s heavy hand and crackdown on dissent has raised concerns about creeping authoritarian rule.
“Implementation of the ACA will involve and facilitate cooperation between the two governments to expand El Salvador’s systems for offering humanitarian protections,” DHS said.
Progressive groups like Refugees International and Human Rights Watch point to the agreement with Guatemala as one that hasn’t seen much success for those seeking asylum. The U.S. sent 1,000 migrants back to Guatemala between November 2019 and March 2020. Of those, only 2 percent who were returned applied for asylum in Guatemala. The rest appear to have given up and went back to their original homes. This begs the question of what would have happened if they had been allowed to remain in the U.S. – would more migrants have participated in the legitimate asylum process or would they have scattered and never completed the legal process once they crossed the border? If migrants are willing to try to cross the border illegally but claim asylum because that is what caravan coyotes have instructed them to do at the border, if challenged, there is no reason to assume they will abide by American immigration laws. Whether or not asylum-seekers will be sent back to El Salvador before the end of Trump’s term in office is unclear.
DHS released a statement explaining that the agreement is part of a regional approach to offer protection to the most vulnerable fleeing violence and persecution in Central American countries.
“Implementation of the Asylum Cooperative Agreement between the United States and El Salvador is a critical step in the establishment of a truly regional approach to migration, and, more specifically, to the offer of protection to those migrants who are victims of persecution,” said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf. “I am grateful to the Government of El Salvador, and to President Bukele personally, for their commitment to the implementation of the ACA, and for the resulting expansion of avenues for protection available to persecuted migrants in the region.”
In order to confront the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at the Southwest border due to historic levels of irregular migration and human smuggling, the U.S. and El Salvador signed an ACA on September 20, 2019 to allow migrants to seek protection within the region in El Salvador. Today’s announcement means that all operational details relating to the implementation of the ACA have been worked out between the United States and El Salvador.
Implementation of the ACA will involve and facilitate cooperation between the two governments to expand El Salvador’s systems for offering humanitarian protections. Building El Salvador’s protection capacity will involve the use of best practices developed by the United States and the international community to increase protection options for vulnerable populations.
DHS is using every available tool at its disposal to mitigate the crisis. During Fiscal Year 2019, more than 71% of migrants apprehended at the U.S. Southwest border were nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. All these countries have now reached agreements with the Trump Administration to confront irregular migration; and all three ACAs have now entered into force.
Joe Biden has pledged $4 billion to tackle the root causes of migration in Central America. During his presidential campaign, he promised to roll back Trump’s border security policies. Biden is an opponent of the wall on the southern border and promised to discontinue construction on that. Between Biden and Kamala Harris, border security will not be a top priority, if their past statements become reality. Biden promised blanket amnesty for 11 million illegal immigrants. When he finds out the number of illegal immigrants is actually larger than that in the United States, he’ll probably alter his pledge to include a larger number. Kamala Harris is on the record for criticizing the agreements with Central American countries. Look for a return of Obama-era immigration policy.
Biden’s Central America plan also calls for the restoration of an Obama-era program — canceled by Trump — that allowed U.S. embassies in the region to process requests for asylum from Central American minors. Notably, Biden’s plan also says his administration will “expand efforts to register and process refugees in the region for resettlement in the U.S. and other countries,” an indication that the incoming administration might look to keep the asylum agreements at least partly in place.
It becomes clear as we get closer to his inauguration that Joe Biden has no new ideas on much of anything. He will rely on Obama administration retreads to fill out his cabinet and his top officials who will drag us back to the bad old days of open borders and expecting embassies to act as border security agents. The Trump administration has a record of success after four years of crafting regional agreements and winning the cooperation of governments from Mexico through Central America. Look for Joe Biden to erase all that with a few strokes of his pen. Joe Biden has been historically wrong on foreign policy throughout his 40-year career in the U.S. Senate. There is certainly no indication that he has changed since he has been out of office.