Washington, D.C. — The Trump administration on Wednesday announced it had reached an asylum agreement with Honduras' scandal-plagued government, unveiling the latest of its controversial immigration deals with the three countries in Central America's Northern Triangle, where the bulk of U.S.-bound migrants are currently coming from or transiting through.
Under the tenure of Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan, the Department of Homeland Security has spearheaded a campaign of diplomacy to broker bilateral accords with several Latin American countries designed to deter migrants considering journeying to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The agreement with Honduras' center-right government will allow the U.S. to deport asylum seekers who seek refuge at the southern border if they traveled through Honduras and failed to seek protection there, according to a senior Homeland Security official. The U.S., the official added, would send these migrants to Honduras so they can have the "opportunity" to seek asylum or another form of protection there.
"It will allow migrants to seek protection as close to home as possible," the Homeland Security official said during a call with reporters.
According to the official, the accord would apply to migrants who seek asylum or protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) — a lesser form of humanitarian relief — in the U.S.
The deal means the U.S. will have the power to potentially deport thousands of asylum seekers from all corners of the globe to Honduras, a country that like Guatemala and El Salvador, has seen a lot of its citizens journey north because of the poverty and violence rampant in many areas. Most of the migrant families and unaccompanied children who have headed to the U.S.-Mexico border in unprecedented numbers in recent months have hailed from these three countries, collectively known as the Northern Triangle — a region that has long suffered from deeply-rooted economic inequality and political instability.
In practice, those likely to be affected by the implementation of Wednesday's agreement will be migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Brazil, Venezuela and African nations that have journeyed to the U.S.-Mexico border in larger numbers in the past year.
The Homeland Security official said the deal committed the U.S. to help the government of Honduras bolster its asylum system — a similar pledge made to leaders in Guatemala and El Salvador.
The agreement, signed on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, follows months of discussions with the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, a staunch international ally of the Trump administration who has been dogged by accusations of corruption.
After being re-elected in 2017 in a very close election denounced as fraudulent by some, Hernández has faced several corruption allegations and members of his family have been accused of harboring drug traffickers. He himself was named by the Justice Department last month as an unindicted co-conspirator in a drug conspiracy and money laundering case against his brother.
Asked if Hernández's implication in a drug conspiracy case was considered in negotiations, the Homeland Security official declined to comment, referring the matter to the Justice Department instead.
Last week, the administration touted, a small country that has long been plagued by widespread insecurity and gang violence. Earlier in the summer, the U.S. and the Guatemalan government brokered an agreement to allow the Trump administration to deport asylum seekers who traveled from other countries through Guatemala to reach the U.S.-Mexico border — and these migrants would be required to seek asylum in Guatemala instead.
Like the agreements with Guatemala and El Salvador, the deal announced on Wednesday with Honduras has not been implemented. The Homeland Security official said all countries involved are proceeding to fulfill the respective domestic legal obligations to ratify the accords.