President Trump announces agreement with Guatemala to deal with asylum-seekers

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Trump said Friday the agreement requires migrants who cross into Guatemala on their way to the United States to apply for asylum protections in Guatemala instead of at the USA border.

"This landmark agreement will put the coyotes and smugglers out of business", the president said, referring to the "bad people" who have trafficked thousands of migrants through Mexico to the southern United States border.

He said that as part of the agreement, the USA would increase access to the H-2A visa programme for temporary agricultural workers from Guatemala. He said other countries would also soon be signing similar asylum agreements with the U.S.

Guatemala's government put out a short Spanish-language statement on Twitter that did not call the agreement "third safe country" but "Cooperation Agreement for the Assessment of Protection Requests".

"This is a very big day, " Trump told reporters in the Oval Office Friday after the two countries spent months negotiating such an agreement. "It lacks the asylum and protection processes required by USA law for negotiation of such an agreement".

On Friday, Guatemala's government said the migration deal will apply to Honduran and Salvadoran citizens.

Right-wing Morales, who tried last January to kick out an anti-corruption team on the verge of investigating him and his National Party for allegedly receiving US$1 million in illegal campaign funds, continues to go along along with the USA deal. Guatemalan nationals living overseas sent back US$ 9.5 billion in 2018 - 12% of the country's GDP, according to the World Bank.

The move by Guatemala comes after the Central American nation announced that its high court prevented it from entering into the deal, NPR reported.

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The goal under the agreement, according to the Guatemalan government is to grant visas to Guatemalans so they can work in the construction and service industries "in the medium to long-term", Reuters states.

Practically, it means the USA will deny asylum requests of Hondurans and Salvadorans who reach American soil unless they have already unsuccessfully applied for asylum in Guatemala.

But the country's Constitutional Court ruled he could not sign such an agreement without prior approval from Congress, which is on a summer recess.

But he also suggested he expects the numbers of people who actually earn status in Guatemala to be low, since only a small fraction of the asylum-seekers actually end up being judged to have valid claims.

The president insisted Friday the U.S and Guatemala have a great relationship, despite the frustrations he's expressed with the country in recent months. Refugees International President Eric Schwartz condemned the announcement as in violation of US law and declared Guatemala unsafe for migrants.

To seek asylum in the U.S., Central American nationals like El Salvador and Honduras need to first pass through Guatemala; the new agreement requires them to apply for asylum there, instead of in the U.S.

Meghan López of the International Rescue Committee in El Salvador said the agreement could leave people in danger. Given the geography, majority have to traverse Guatemala to get the the US - and returning them could be a severe disincentive to making the journey in the first place.

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