North America

US migrant treatment 'shameful' says Pelosi, raising doubts about settlement deal

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has issued a warning over Brexit Source: AP

Guatemala has struck a deal with the Trump government to make the country a so-called “safe third country” for migrants.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has slammed US treatment of migrants during a visit to Guatemala, and raised doubts about whether the Central American country could cope with a migration deal agreed with the Trump administration. 

Ms Pelosi, a Democrat, was visiting Central America on Thursday with a bipartisan congressional delegation just as the region was coming under pressure from US President Donald Trump to do more to stop migrants reaching the United States.

Under the threat of economic sanctions, Guatemala late last month struck a deal with Mr Trump to make the country a so-called “safe third country”.

The accord will require migrants to seek asylum in Guatemala rather than in the United States.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives a press conference after meeting with El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele in San Salvador, El Salvador.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi gives a press conference after meeting with El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele in San Salvador, El Salvador.
AP

Critics question whether Guatemala, which suffers from high levels of poverty and violence, has the resources to handle a potential surge in asylum applications.

Asked whether Guatemala would be able to handle the agreement, Ms Pelosi told a news conference she wanted to know more about what the safe third country deal entailed, and described it as a “very difficult challenge.”

Ms Pelosi and the congressional delegation will also travel to El Salvador and Honduras, after which they are scheduled to visit US detention centres in McAllen, Texas.

Democrats have said Mr Trump’s policies have sparked a humanitarian crisis at border facilities, and Ms Pelosi said that “from what we have seen in past visits, the treatment of people there is a challenge to the conscience of America”.

“It’s really shameful what has happened on the border,” added Ms Pelosi, who was meeting with representatives from the judiciary, civil society and rights groups in Guatemala.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said this month that the United States wants similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador.

His office said on Thursday the number of migrants apprehended or deemed inadmissible on the U.S. border with Mexico fell 21 per cent to 82,049 in July from June.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, left, speaks to the media on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, left, speaks to the media on the U.S.-Mexico border.
AP

“The situation is improving by every available metric, but, I want to be very clear, that we remain at and beyond crisis levels in illegal crossings,” he said in a statement.

According to Customs and Border Protection data, law enforcement actions against Guatemalan migrants fell by 41 per cent, against Salvadorans by 21 per cent and against Hondurans by 16 per cent in July.

Under the safe third country deal, Guatemala says it will only accept migrants from neighboring Honduras and El Salvador.

Still, Guatemalan-born US Democratic Representative Norma Torres said the deal was not realistic.

“My personal position is that Guatemala is in no way capable of being a (safe) third country,” she said alongside Ms Pelosi.

Immigration, one of Mr Trump’s signature issues in the 2016 presidential campaign, is already shaping up as a central issue in the November 2020 election. Democrats have sharply criticized the president’s policies aimed at banning nearly all asylum-seekers from entry, warehousing detainees in crowded quarters and holding children separately from the adults they travelled with.

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