Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States could be deported to Guatemala, part of a controversial migration deal between the Central American nation and Washington, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told AFP Monday.
The agreement designated Guatemala a “safe third country” – allowing U.S. authorities to deport some El Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers there – and was condemned by international human rights groups.
“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,” a spokesperson for Homeland Security said in a statement.
The Mexican foreign ministry said it “disagreed” with the measure that could affect roughly 900 of its citizens from February.
In a statement, the ministry said it would closely monitor “human rights set out in the international agreements signed and ratified” by both countries.
Washington’s move is the latest tightening of immigration regulations under President Donald Trump, who has pursued a broader crackdown on migrants.
Under the agreement with Guatemala, migrants who want to seek asylum in the U.S. but travel through Guatemala must first request protection in the Central American country.
Many international observers say the country – with 60 percent poverty – is in no shape to welcome refugees but simply signed the agreement under intense U.S. pressure.
Washington has reached a similar deal with El Salvador.
In October, the U.S. said border agents at the southern frontier with Mexico had arrested or stopped nearly one million undocumented migrants over the previous 12 months.
The increase was attributed to groups or families of Central American migrants fleeing poverty and violence to seek asylum on U.S. soil.
Most migrants who reached the border are processed by immigration officials and then released to await a hearing on their claim.
In a bid to stop the new arrivals, the U.S. has asked Mexico to slow migrants’ travel, and ordered the expulsion of asylum seekers back to Mexico.