Guatemala: US ending accord that sent asylum seekers back

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala said Friday the U.S. government is ending an arrangement that sent asylum-seekers who reached U.S. borders back to the Central American nation with an opportunity to seek protection there instead.

The Guatemalan government said in a statement it welcomed the decision to end the accord, known as a safe third country agreement.

“The Guatemalan government welcomes the statements of President Joe Biden regarding his administration’s commitment to our country and the region,” according to the statement.

As of December, only 20 of 939 Hondurans and El Salvadorans who have been turned back from the U.S. and flown to Guatemala decided to seek asylum there, and none of those have gained final approval. With so many returning to their home countries instead, the policy instituted by former president Donald Trump became known as “deportation with a layover.”

Similar arrangements were reached between the U.S. and El Salvador and Honduras. It was unclear if they were also ending. Biden’s team had earlier said he would work quickly to undo those deals.

Flights to Guatemala began in late 2019 and were halted when the coronavirus struck.

Ursula Roldan, a research director at Guatemala’s Rafael Landívar University, said the accords had long been viewed as illegitimate, and were reached in some cases with corrupt governments under the implicit assumption that in exchange, the U.S. would ignore allegations of corruption.

“What President Biden is doing is restoring the asylum and refuge system, is equivalent to once again providing transparency and clarity on these issues, and clarity in negotiations with other countries on immigration and asylum,” Roldan said.

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