Politics

Guatemala’s President-Elect Says His Country Can’t Meet Trump’s Safe Third Country Deal

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter

Guatemala’s president-elect said his country is unable to manage the responsibilities that come with being a “third safe country,” referencing the recent immigration deal between his country and the Trump administration.

“In order to be a safe country, one has to be certified as such by an international body, and I do not think Guatemala fulfills the requirements to be a third safe country. That definition doesn’t fit us,” President-elect Alejandro Giammattei told the Associated Press Tuesday.

“If we do not have the capacity for our own people, just imagine other people,” Giammattei, who won Sunday’s presidential election runoff, continued.

The president-elect’s comments pertained to the safe third country deal signed by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Guatemala’s Interior Minister on July 26. Under the auspices of the agreement, asylum seekers who cross Guatemala would be required to remain in that country instead of the U.S. Any asylum seekers who arrive at the U.S. border and are determined to have crossed Guatemala would be sent back.

TOPSHOT-US-MEXICO-BORDER-IMMIGRATION-ARREST

TOPSHOT – A Border Patrol agent apprehends illegal immigrants shortly after they crossed the border from Mexico into the United States on Monday, March 26, 2018 in the Rio Grande Valley Sector near McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Loren ELLIOTT / AFP) (Photo credit should read LOREN ELLIOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

The deal mainly affects immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras, where citizens typically must pass through Guatemala in their U.S.-bound journey northward. Guatemalan migrants themselves, who currently make up one of the largest groups of illegal aliens arriving at the border, are not affected by the safe third country agreement.

The deal was signed by President Jimmy Morales’ outgoing government under the threat of economic sanctions by the Trump administration. However, the idea of becoming a safe haven for asylum seekers is extremely unpopular with the country’s citizens. A recent survey by a Guatemalan newspaper found that more than 80% of Guatemalans are against the deal.

The Department of Homeland Security attempted to conduct damage control before the presidential runoff took place, with acting secretary Kevin McAleenan visiting Guatemala earlier in August to speak the then-top two leading candidates. McAleenan touted the merits of the agreement and pledged U.S. support in implementing it.

Despite the White House’s best efforts, the Guatemalan public and the incoming president remain skeptical. In the meantime, Giammettei has expressed interest in having members of his transition team be included in negotiations as the U.S. and Morales’ outgoing government continue to hammer out additional details of the deal. (RELATED: ICE Chief Says Illegal Immigrant Parents Are ‘Responsible’ For Child Separation)

Short of completely scrapping the safe third country agreement, the right-wing victor expressed interest in at least tweaking certain measures to better alleviate the stress it would cause on his government’s resources.

“I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the United States,” Giammettei said to Reuters shortly before he was declared the presidential election winner on Sunday.

The president-elect will assume office in January.

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