Local View: Asylum Cooperative Agreements should be suspended permanently
I want you to imagine you are no longer safe in Duluth. Perhaps gangs have taken over your part of town. Or a foreign company has poisoned Lake Superior, and there is no drinking water left. Maybe government officials stole so much money that the economy collapsed and even with two, three, then four jobs, you cannot feed your children. Knowing you won’t survive this reality, you and thousands of Northlanders do the obvious: you migrate.
After walking to the Canadian border (which, let’s imagine, is thousands of miles away), you apply for asylum. You know that according to the Canadian government and international law, you have the right to do this. You are breaking no laws. However, suddenly, without clear information about what’s happening, the Canadian government deports you to Mexico and tells you to apply for asylum there.
In the summer of 2019, the U.S. government signed this kind of absurdity into law through three so-called Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These agreements, also known as “safe third country agreements,” allow the U.S. to deport asylum-seekers to these “third countries,” even if the asylum-seekers are not from there. Despite strong national and international condemnation, Guatemala and the U.S. signed the first agreement after President Donald Trump tweeted direct threats of economic sanctions.
I’m from Duluth but live in Guatemala now, and I have seen firsthand the way these Central American governments do not respond to the needs of their own people, much less the needs of thousands of asylum-seekers for whom the U.S. is legally responsible.
People leave their homes in huge numbers to save their lives, not because they want to. In 2018 alone, 62,000 Salvadorans and Hondurans sought U.S. asylum. Migrants are escaping mass violence, much of which is caused by imposed resource extraction, corruption, and militarization that U.S. foreign policy has either directly planned, enabled, or conveniently ignored.
So far, more than 900 asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador have been deported to Guatemala under its Asylum Cooperative Agreement. Of these people, fewer than 20 sought asylum in Guatemala. It’s unclear what the other 880 people did once they found themselves in an unknown place, far from home and farther still from safety.
Due to the pandemic, Asylum Cooperative Agreements are currently suspended, but they could be reinstated at any time. Contrary to its own public health recommendations, the U.S. continues standard deportations, quite literally exporting death to countries with negligible medical infrastructure.
We must demand that Congress defund the agreements and take a stand against them as a threat to safety, human dignity, and Central American sovereignty. Concerned people can get involved by educating themselves and others, signing a petition against the agreements, and contacting their congresspeople.
To learn more about this campaign, please visit nisgua.org/take-action .
Claire Bransky is a cross-border organizer for the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA). Born and raised in Duluth, she has worked in Guatemala for three years, accompanying indigenous land defenders and genocide survivors.