The Trump administration entered into an “asylum cooperation agreement” with El Salvador on Friday. The agreement will require asylum seekers who enter El Salvador to first request protective status there and will pave the way for American assistance in El Salvador’s efforts to grow the capacity of its own asylum system.
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary McAleenan described the agreement as an extension of the successful efforts the administration has already made with Guatemala with regard to asylum-seeking migrants. The idea behind the pact is to “try to further our efforts to provide opportunities to seek protection for political, racial, religious or social group persecution as close as possible to the origin of individuals that need it,” McAleenan said.
While the earlier agreement with Guatemala was more in line with a “safe third country” scenario meant to compel immigrants to seek asylum there rather than passing through to Mexico en route to the U.S. border, McAleenan said that the El Salvador deal has more to do with helping get El Salvador ready to provide necessary protections and resources for asylum seekers.
“The core of [the agreement] is recognizing El Salvador’s development of their own asylum system and a commitment to help them build that capacity,” McAleenan said.
El Salvador’s role in crisis
El Salvadorean officials recognize that the epidemic of gang violence plaguing the country makes it a place many people are clamoring to leave rather than a place of refuge. This agreement is designed to help alleviate that situation and foster more hospitable circumstances for migrants.
At present, more than four people a day on average are killed by gun violence in El Salvador, but that represents a decline from last year’s daily average of nine victims. It is hoped that continued improvement on this front may lead to fewer people attempting to leave the country and head toward the U.S. border.
El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June, acknowledged that his country bears some responsibility for the immigration nightmare plaguing the U.S., including tragedies such as that of the El Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande trying to cross the U.S. southern border illegally, a story which grabbed international headlines in June.
“We can blame any other country but what about our blame?” he asked. “What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador, they fled our country. It is our fault.”
Details remain unclear
“Irregular immigration has been an issue in El Salvador for the last 30-odd years, now we’ve reached levels where it is extremely, extremely important that both the United States and El Salvador deal with this issue conjointly,” El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill told reporters.
Hill views the agreement with the U.S. as a strategy to get better control over the factors driving immigration. If fewer people feel threatened by gang violence or oppressed by extreme poverty, they will be less inclined to flee to America or another country.
While the agreement sounds encouraging at first glance, it is worth noting that few specifics have been released thus far about what McAleenan touted as bilateral initiatives to combat drug trafficking, organized crime, human smuggling and a lack of economic opportunity in El Salvador.
Without many details about precisely the sort of assistance the U.S. will be offering, skeptics wonder whether this agreement will have a significant impact. Hopefully, America’s outreach to El Salvador will be in the vein of “teach a man to fish,” rather than the “eat for a day” variety.