Human rights advocates on Thursday warned that a "suspect" asylum deal negotiated between the White House and the president of Honduras—along with similar agreements with Guatemala and El Salvador—could endanger thousands of refugees and could even prove deadly for many people in search of safety.
The Trump administration announced on Wednesday it struck a deal with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, allowing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to send asylum-seekers who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border to Honduras if they have not already sought asylum there en route to the United States.
"This administration is willing to go to great lengths to further endanger the lives of migrants and asylum seekers who are in vulnerable situations, even if it means negotiating a suspect deal with an individual implicated in trafficking drugs to the United States."
—Geoff Thale, Washington Office on Latin America
"This is yet another move in a string of agreements that continue to make a grotesque mockery of the right to asylum," said Charanya Krishnaswami, an advocacy director for Amnesty International. "People cannot be forced to seek safety in countries where they will not be safe. Instead of offering protection to people fleeing these conditions, the United States is instead pursuing a disastrous plan that could carry deadly consequences."
The plan is part of President Donald Trump's so-called "safe third country" agreements, which he also forged with Guatemala and El Salvador in the last several weeks. The deals demand that refugees who arrive at the southern U.S. border without having tried to gain asylum in the three countries will be sent to one of them. Despite condemnation by rights advocates, Trump also forged similar deals with Guatemala and El Salvador in the last several weeks.
But immigrant rights groups note that under the agreements, the administration will be sending families to countries that thousands have fled over the last several years, escaping gang violence, high murder rates, and poverty.
"Asylum seekers are fleeing lethal conditions in these very countries," said Geoff Thale of the Washington Office on Latin America. "Potentially forcing them back to regions unprepared to keep them safe is more than cruel: it's perverse."
Especially since the 2009 U.S.-backed military coup, supported by the Obama administration, Honduras has become one of the most violent and unstable countries in Central America. In the past 11 months, more than 250,000 people have arrived in the U.S. from Honduras, where the homicide rate is eight times higher than that of the U.S. Thousands of people have also arrived at the border from Guatemala and El Salvador.
On social media, rights groups including the Women's Refugee Commission and Doctors Without Borders condemned the proposal.
"It's the third time the Trump administration has targeted families seeking safety by keeping them in harm's way," tweeted the Women's Refugee Commission. "It's morally reprehensible."
We're very concerned about this US deal to send #asylumseekers at the US border to Honduras, one of the most violent nations. It's the 3rd time the Trump admin has targeted families seeking safety by keeping them in harm’s way. It’s morally reprehensible: https://t.co/wFo2H4FIHm
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— Women's Refugee Commission (@wrcommission) September 25, 2019
BREAKING: US has now signed an asylum deal to send people to Honduras.
Honduras is not safe for asylum seekers.
El Salvador is not safe or asylum seekers.
Guatemala is not safe for asylum seekers.
Stop. Endangering. Vulnerable. Lives.
— Doctors w/o Borders (@MSF_USA) September 25, 2019
A federal court blocked Trump's third-country rule in July, but the Supreme Court this month allowed it to go forward temporarily while court cases are pending.
Critics said Trump's deal with Hernández is particularly "chilling," as the Honduran president has been accused of widespread corruption and was recently named by U.S. prosecutors as a co-conspirator in an international drug trafficking case.
Hernández's younger brother is accused of running a trafficking ring and the president allegedly used funds from the operation to finance his 2013 presidential campaign.
Under the deal, the U.S. and Honduras will expand their information-sharing and cooperation to target international criminal enterprises, according to the Washington Post.
"This administration is willing to go to great lengths to further endanger the lives of migrants and asylum seekers who are in vulnerable situations, even if it means negotiating a suspect deal with an individual implicated in trafficking drugs to the United States," said Thale.