The Trump administration, amid a spike in Mexican nationals crossing the US border, says it will start deporting some Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala to claim asylum there, according to Homeland Security officials.
The administration has rolled out a series of policies intended to curtail people from claiming asylum in the United States. Many of those changes targeted Central Americans who were increasingly coming to the US-Mexico border to claim asylum. Those policies did not apply to Mexican nationals.
Arrests of Mexican migrants increased in fiscal year 2019, compared to the prior year, according to Customs and Border Protection data. While Central American families made up the majority of arrests, there was an uptick in the apprehension of Mexican families at the southern border from around 2,200 to 6,000.
Between October and November of last year, 2,000 Mexican families have been arrested at the US-Mexico border.
It’s unclear how many of those apprehended claimed asylum. But in a statement Monday night, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry estimated that the proposal could “affect around 900 applicants as of February.”
The latest move to send Mexican asylum seekers to Guatemala is an expansion of an agreement signed last year by then-Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. The agreement marked a major shift in US asylum policy, as it allowed the US to send migrants who may have a legitimate claim of asylum to another country to make their case.
The Trump administration has touted the agreements, which have also been struck with other Central American countries, arguing that they allow migrants to seek asylum closer to their home countries. But immigrant advocates and lawyers say that the countries the US struck agreements with don’t have the infrastructure in place to support these migrants.
The US is also working on agreements with Honduras and El Salvador.
Buzzfeed first reported the administration would begin deporting Mexican migrants seeking asylum in the US to Guatemala. Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli confirmed the report on Twitter.
“Certain Mexicans seeking humanitarian protections in the United States may now be eligible to be transferred to Guatemala and given the opportunity to seek protection there, under the terms of the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement,” said a DHS spokesperson in a statement.
As of Monday, no Mexicans had yet to be sent to Guatemala, according to a DHS official.
Overall, the number of people apprehended along the US-Mexico border has dipped in recent months. In December, US Border Patrol apprehended around 32,800 people on the southwest border, according to preliminary Border Patrol data obtained by CNN, down from 33,510 in November.
During the height of the migration crisis last May, Border Patrol on the southwest border arrested 132,856 people, primarily family members from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
But DHS has recently had to contend with an increase in Mexican single adults and families arriving at the US border.
Last month, the US re-initiated a program to send Mexican nationals to the interior of Mexico to deter them from crossing again into the US. The expansion of the Guatemala agreement to include Mexican asylum seekers appears to be yet another attempt to stem the flow of Mexican nationals to the US border.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry rejected the proposal in a statement Monday night, saying that the government of Mexico will work alongside state and local authorities to “offer better options to Mexicans that could be affected by this provision,” adding that the foreign ministry will “monitor the fulfillment of human rights contemplated in the international agreements signed and ratified by both Mexico and the United States.”
Mexico has previously raised objections to US immigration policies, including the so-called “remain in Mexico” program that requires some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings in the US but it’s moved forward and expanded over time.