Trump meeting with Guatemalan president on ‘safe third country’ status postponed

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Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump in the White House on Monday for bilateral talks that were expected to focus primarily on immigration issues.

That meeting has been indefinitely postponed, however, following internal disagreement among Guatemalan officials with regard to a potential “safe third country” designation for the Central American nation, according to reports.

“‘Safe third country” status

CBS News reported that the cancellation of the Monday meeting was announced publicly on Sunday by Morales’ office, and it is unclear when that meeting will take place now even though both Guatemalan and U.S. officials insist it will be rescheduled for an unspecified date in the near future.

At issue is an internal legal dispute in Guatemala over the “safe third country” status that would require migrants from other Central American nations like El Salvador and Honduras, not to mention South American migrants — who typically must pass through Guatemala in order to reach Mexico and the U.S. — to make their asylum claims in Guatemala.

The potential designation was challenged in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court and additional time was needed to let the legal appeals process play out, leaving President Morales and his administration uncertain as to whether they could legally enter into a “safe third country” agreement with the U.S.

Holding pattern

“Due to speculation and legal proceedings admitted for processing to the Constitutional Court, a decision was made to reschedule the bilateral meeting until we know what was resolved by said court,” the Guatemalan office of the presidency said in a statement Sunday.

“The government of the republic reiterates that at no moment has it contemplated signing an agreement to convert Guatemala into a safe third country,” the statement added, though the statement also made clear that other bilateral issues — including those related to immigration — were still very much up for discussion in the meantime.

That official added that the U.S. “will continue to work with the Government of Guatemala on concrete and immediate steps that can be taken to address the ongoing migration crisis.”

On Sunday, the Constitutional Court handed down a decision that effectively blocked the country’s president from making an immediate “safe third country” declaration, and ruled that approval from the Guatemalan congress would be required before any such agreement could be ratified.

Asylum dilemma

As noted, a “safe third country” agreement would mean that migrants who pass through Guatemala on their way to seek asylum in the U.S. or Mexico would be required to apply in the first safe country they reach, which in the case of other Central and South American nations would mean Guatemala.

Unfortunately, Guatemala doesn’t really have the resources — nor is it particularly “safe” enough — to be capable of handling the tens or even hundreds of thousands of potential asylum-seekers that pass through its borders during their journey.

Until the issue is settled legislatively in Guatemala, Morales is all but handcuffed in terms of reaching an agreement with Trump, so at least as of now, the potential solution that could lessen the number of migrants headed to the U.S. border will remain in limbo.

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