Julián Castro says migrants may "end up dead" because of U.S.-Guatemala asylum deal

Castro: Trump's attacks are part of his 2020 playbook

Julián Castro, the only Latino in the crowded field of Democrats running for president, denounced the Trump administration's recent asylum agreement with the Guatemalan government, saying the proposal — if implemented — will place asylum seekers in precarious situations.

"You're going to now ensure that more of those people who are desperate, who are fleeing desperate circumstances, end up dead," Castro, who was housing secretary during the Obama administration, said on "Face the Nation" Sunday. 

Echoing concerns by other Democrats, Castro, the first Democratic candidate to release a comprehensive immigration plan, said the U.S. pressured Guatemala into signing an agreement effectively designating the Central America country a so-called "safe third country."

Replicating his strategy of brinkmanship to pressure the Mexican government into bolstering its domestic immigration enforcement and allow the U.S. to send tens of thousands of asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for the court hearings, President Trump had threatened to impose a tax on money Guatemalan immigrants in the U.S. send to family members back home, tariffs on goods from Guatemala and even a travel ban for the entire country.

On Friday, after months of negotiations, Guatemalans officials signed a deal with the U.S. to avoid the "economic catastrophe" they believed would have ensued if Mr. Trump made good on his threats. The U.S. version of the agreement has not been disclosed, but a document released by the Guatemalan government suggests the deal is essentially a "safe third country" agreement — a provision in U.S. immigration law that allows the government to deem certain migrants ineligible for asylum. 

Under the proposal, the U.S. would deport asylum seekers who traveled from other countries through Guatemala to reach the U.S.-Mexico border, and they would be required to seek asylum in Guatemala instead. 

But Castro maintained that Guatemala is not a "safe third country."

Guatemala has been plagued by political instability for decades, and poverty and violence are rampant in many areas of the country, especially in predominantly indigenous communities in the western highlands. More than 230,000 Guatemalans have journeyed north this year to try to reach the U.S. 

If the proposal — which still has to be approved by the Guatemalan legislature and judiciary — goes into effect, Castro said migrants will "end up in even more dire circumstances when it's been the tradition of the United States to actually allow people to make their asylum claims here when they reach a port of entry."