Guatemala's high court probably just killed Trump's Safe Third Country deal

Over the weekend we talked about the President’s announcement that he was close to inking a Safe Third Country deal with Guatemala, following discussions with President Jimmy Morales. There are certainly questions to be answered and issues to be addressed before identifying that nation as an official Safe Third Country in terms of migration, but at this point, it may not matter. Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled yesterday that no Safe Third Country agreement can be entered into without their congress first approving it. (From Prensa Libre. Original is in Spanish and the translation has been cleaned up a bit for clarity.)

The Constitutional Court (CC) granted provisional protection to three appeals that were raised against the possible decision of the Government to allow Guatemala to become a safe third country for migrants seeking asylum in the United States. With this decision, the agreement between the governments of Guatemala and the United States (United States) must be submitted to the Congress of the Republic.

The CC resolved that for President Jimmy Morales to make the decision to sign an agreement that makes Guatemala a safe third country, it must have knowledge and approval of Congress.

“The President of the Republic of Guatemala is warned that, in order to take the decision, on behalf of the State of Guatemala, to constitute the national territory as a safe third country, it must comply with the mechanism established in paragraph l) of article 171 of the Political Constitution of the Republic, “says the resolution of the CC.

You can read the full decision here at the court’s website. It’s in Spanish, of course, but most browsers will adequately translate it for you.

Even if this ruling doesn’t kill the deal entirely, it complicates it far more than simply asking for a vote on it. Guatemala held its national elections last month so the current Congress is in lame duck territory and may not want to tackle such a significant and controversial subject. Further, President Morales is a lame duck until he leaves in January. (He’s constitutionally barred from seeking another term.)

Further muddying the waters is the fact that we don’t even know who Morales’ replacement will be. There’s going to be a runoff election in August because none of the candidates received a majority of the votes. It’s been noted by some observers that Morales has ignored the rulings of the court in the past, so he might consider trying to ram this through, but it would seriously throw the legitimacy of any agreement he signed with Donald Trump into question.

The way things are looking right now, President Trump’s announcement last week looks to be a non-starter until at least January. At that point, he could try to restart the negotiations with whoever the next Guatemalan leader winds up being. But by then we’ll be well into the midst of the 2020 elections, so it’s possible that this deal isn’t going to happen at all unless Trump wins a second term and handles it in 2021.