The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed on Wednesday the implementation of a migration agreement with El Salvador, by which asylum seekers at the U.S. border can be deported to the Central American nation.
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“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,” Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf explained.
The Asylum Cooperative Agreement (ACA), signed in 2019, allows the U.S. to deport migrants who can submit legitimate asylum requests back to El Salvador. The DHS has branded the agreement as "an important step to seek protection in El Salvador." Nonetheless, El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world and the U.S. Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) has qualified the country's capital as "being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests."
That said, several activists and human rights groups have denounced that these agreements are a major setback for the security of thousands of migrants. According to DHS figures "more than 71% of migrants apprehended at the U.S. Southwest border were nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras."
Donald Trump's administration has taken advantage of these migratory flows to pursue migration accords with the aforementioned Central American countries.
Nonetheless, an investigation published in May by Refugees International and Human Rights Watch indicates that the migrants interviewed "described abusive conditions at the U.S. border, including receiving inedible frozen food, having no access to showers for several days at a time, being unable to sleep because lights were constantly left on, being denied medical care, and being subjected to insults and degrading treatment while in custody."
Moreover, back in Guatemala via the ACA agreement, the migrants said that "once transferees were registered at the airport, they had 72 hours to decide whether they would remain in Guatemala, return to the countries they fled, or try to find refuge elsewhere. The Guatemalan government’s 72-hour time limit is arbitrary and coercive, giving transferees insufficient time to make such monumental decisions."
A total of 939 Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers, most of them women and children, had to flee to Guatemala between November 21, 2019, and March 16, 2020. The report notices that only 2 percent of them applied for asylum.