Guatemala court asked to block 'safe 3rd country' with US

Guatemala court asked to block 'safe 3rd country' with US
A Honduran boy, who is waiting with his family to request asylum, rests on an air mattress at the entrance to the Puerta Mexico international bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state, Mexico, Friday, June 28, 2019. Hundreds of migrants from Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Africa have been waiting, most in rented rooms or a distant shelter, for their number to be called at the bridge in downtown Matamoros, to have the opportunity to request asylum in the U.S.(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Three former foreign ministers are asking Guatemala’s Constitutional Court to bar President Jimmy Morales from entering into a “safe third country” agreement with the United States, days ahead of his visit to Washington announced Thursday.

Such an arrangement would require asylum seekers to apply for refuge in the first “safe” country they arrive in. That means Hondurans, Salvadorans and others who pass through Guatemala would not be able to go directly to the U.S. border and make an asylum claim there.

Critics of such a deal note Guatemala shares similar conditions of poverty and gang violence that are driving people to flee the other two countries of Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Morales’ government said via Twitter that he is expected to meet Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump and also with other officials to discuss security, immigration and economic matters.

Presidential spokesman Alfredo Brito said Morales’ visit is not for the purpose of signing a “safe third country” deal.

Two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter said, however, that a “safe third country” agreement with Guatemala is on the table and the hope is to have a signing ceremony while Morales is in Washington, though they cautioned that it was not a done deal. The officials agreed to talk about the matter only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Wednesday’s court filing by the three former ministers was also signed by two former high-ranking diplomats and was made public Thursday.

It seeks an injunction against any agreement, arguing that Morales would be misusing a 1954 convention on simplified signing for international treaties to violate Guatemalan laws in response to pressure from Washington to slow a wave of mostly Central American migration toward the U.S. border.

Noting Morales has just six months left in office, the filing says an agreement “would allow the current president of the republic to leave the future of our country mortgaged, without any responsibility.”

It also says a possible agreement has not been made public, violating principles of government transparency.

The court filing seeks to include in an injunction Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel and Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who have been involved in immigration and security talks with the United States.

Human Rights Prosecutor Jordán Rodas has repeatedly urged Morales to respect migrants’ human rights and argues that making Guatemala a “safe third country” would be “prejudicial for the country and its inhabitants due to the institutional precariousness of the Guatemalan state and the conditions of exclusion, severe poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, social conflict and public insecurity.”

Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, said an agreement would contravene the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act and U.S. and international refugee law, which require asylum seekers to be transported only to safe places.

“A ‘safe third country’ agreement with Guatemala would slam shut the door on people seeking to escape violence in parts of Central America and trap them in the very situations they are trying to flee,” Schwartz said.

The only other “safe third country” agreement the United States has negotiated was with Canada in 2002.