WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced an accord Friday that would allow the United States to divert asylum seekers from the U.S. border to El Salvador, pushing migrants into one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The deal between the two governments is the latest in a series of measures aimed at creating new layers of deterrents to the influx of migrants applying for protection on U.S. soil.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Salvadoran foreign minister Alexandra Hill in front of television cameras in Washington, but the two officials gave few details and no indication when their accord would take effect.
McAleenan, who traveled to El Salvador for talks last month with President Nayib Bukele, praised a “shared responsibility” on migration that was part of a broader deal to accelerate economic development in Central America with the goal of keeping migrants in their home countries.
“Today, we’re very happy to announce the signing of this cooperative agreement between the United States and El Salvador to build protection capacity,” McAleenan said, “to further our efforts for opportunities to seek protection for political, racial, religious or social groups persecution as close as possible to the origin of individuals who need it.”
The accord shows willingness by the Trump administration to send people to places that are known to be dangerous — and from which people have been fleeing extreme poverty, violence and corruption — to dissuade them from attempting a journey to the U.S. border in the first place.
McAleenan called the accord with El Salvador an “asylum cooperation agreement,” rather than the kind of “safe third country” arrangement Trump officials have pursued for years. That term has been stigmatized in Central America, in large part, because it would be difficult to consider the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as a safe haven given that it has among the highest homicide rates in the world.
“The core of it is recognizing El Salvador’s development of their own asylum system and a commitment to help them build that capacity,” McAleenan said. He said the diversion of asylum seekers would be “one potential use of the agreement.”