Trump immigration plans: US signs deal to deport migrants to Honduras

Families leave the airport in Guatemala City after arriving on an ICE deportation flight from the US on August 22, 2019Image copyright
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Image caption

Many asylum seekers who reach the US border now face being returned to Central American countries

Honduras has signed a deal with the United States to accept migrants applying for asylum in the US.

Under the agreement, the US would be able to deport to Honduras asylum seekers who passed through the country on the way to the US southern border.

Critics say Honduras, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world, is not a safe destination for those fleeing violence and poverty.

Guatemala and El Salvador have already signed similar deals.

The US has been trying to sign “safe third country” agreements that would allow it to send back asylum seekers who pass through countries on the way to the US without seeking protection there.

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US President Donald Trump has made reducing the numbers of migrants crossing the US-Mexico border a key priority.

The bulk of those arriving at the border are from the three countries of Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle – Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Many have made long and perilous journeys in their attempt to start a new life in the US.

Correspondents say all three agreements remain in a complex process of legal challenges and parliamentary ratification procedures.

What is the latest deal?

On Wednesday, a senior US Department of Homeland Security official told US media that the deal with Honduras would “allow migrants to seek protection as close to home as possible”.

Migration experts quoted by Honduran newspaper El Heraldo said that Cubans, Venezuelans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and some Africans pass through Honduras heading to the US.

Media captionThe Africans risking death in the jungle trying to reach the US

The deal signed with the US could mean 26,000 migrants per year being hosted by Honduras pending their asylum applications, the newspaper estimated, with some applications taking years to process.

Immigrant rights groups argue that Honduras – one of the most violent countries in the world – should never be considered a safe place for asylum seekers, many of whom will be fleeing gang violence in their own countries.

They also say that even if migrants wanted to apply for asylum in Honduras, the system there is so broken and understaffed that almost no application would receive the attention needed.

Media captionWhat happens if Mexico doesn’t stem the migrant flow?

Adding to the country’s woes, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has been named as a co-conspirator on drug-smuggling charges in a case which has already seen his brother, Tony Hernández, formally charged in a US federal court. He denies any wrongdoing and says the claims are politically motivated.

Addressing the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Mr Hernández hit out at what he called “smears” from “criminals” and others.

What’s the background?

Similar criticism of Wednesday’s deal was made when El Salvador – which also has one of the world’s highest murder rates – signed an agreement with the US on 20 September.

Meghan Lopez, of the humanitarian group the International Rescue Committee, accused the Trump administration of “attempting once more to turn its back on extremely vulnerable people”.

“El Salvador is not safe for many of its own nationals,” she said at the time. “It is unrealistic to expect El Salvador to be able to offer protection to asylum-seekers fleeing conditions comparable to those in El Salvador.”

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Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court allowed the government to stop people arriving at the southern border from seeking protection if they failed to do so in a country they passed through en route.

The Trump administration unveiled the new asylum policy in July but it was almost immediately blocked from taking effect by a lower court ruling by a judge in San Francisco.

Some 811,016 people were detained on the south-western border up until the end of August 2019, and of these, nearly 590,000 were from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The majority arrived with at least one other family member.