US DHS chief, Guatemala president meet on asylum agreement

August 1, 2019 GMT
Lola Vazquez, who identifies as transgender, waves a transgender flag during a protest against a deal Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States, in Guatemala City, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Critics of the deal point out that Guatemala has the same problems that are driving Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their homes: violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hurt farmers. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
Lola Vazquez, who identifies as transgender, waves a transgender flag during a protest against a deal Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States, in Guatemala City, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Critics of the deal point out that Guatemala has the same problems that are driving Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their homes: violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hurt farmers. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
Lola Vazquez, who identifies as transgender, waves a transgender flag during a protest against a deal Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States, in Guatemala City, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Critics of the deal point out that Guatemala has the same problems that are driving Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their homes: violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hurt farmers. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
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Lola Vazquez, who identifies as transgender, waves a transgender flag during a protest against a deal Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States, in Guatemala City, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Critics of the deal point out that Guatemala has the same problems that are driving Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their homes: violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hurt farmers. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
1 of 5
Lola Vazquez, who identifies as transgender, waves a transgender flag during a protest against a deal Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' government signed with Washington that would force Salvadoran and Honduran migrants to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States, in Guatemala City, Wednesday, July 31, 2019. Critics of the deal point out that Guatemala has the same problems that are driving Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their homes: violence, poverty, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has severely hurt farmers. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan met Thursday with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to discuss an agreement under which many asylum seekers would have to file claims in this Central American nation rather than in the United States.

The meeting lasted over an hour and followed a separate encounter between McAleenan and business leaders.

Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart was present at the meeting with Morales. He said McAleenan expressed concern about getting the agreement ratified quickly. Degenhart said it would be sent to Guatemalan lawmakers soon.

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“Our perception is of a lot of concern because, as President Trump said, for them this agreement needs to already be moving forward,” Degenhart said after the meeting.

He said the agreement had to first be ratified by Guatemalan legislators and receive a final decision by the Constitutional Court before it could take effect.

Citizen Action, the local chapter of Transparency International, has sued Degenhart alleging usurpation of powers. The Constitutional Court has previously ruled that the congress has to ratify international agreements before they are signed.

The deal could ease the crush of mostly Central Americans arriving at the U.S. border and requesting asylum. But critics note that Guatemala is a country from which large numbers of people are themselves fleeing violence and poverty.

McAleenan met a day earlier with presidential candidates Sandra Torres and Alejandro Giammattei, who will face each other in a runoff election Aug. 11.

Torres said Wednesday after her meeting that she had little information about the agreement signed by the government with the U.S. She added that U.S. officials “are aware that it’s a very weakened government, that the population doesn’t trust President Jimmy Morales and that he doesn’t have sufficient trust and backing to sign an agreement.”

Giammattei said he expressed his concerns about the agreement and invited McAleenan to work jointly toward a structural solution of the immigration problem.

“Our people won’t look to migrate if in Guatemala there are jobs, security, health and shelter,” he said.

McAleenan said during brief comments to journalists that 30% of the migrants detained at the U.S. border are Guatemalans and that 50% of all the migrants arriving at the southwestern border had passed through Guatemala.

U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga said McAleenan has seen the local reality.

“We share common challenges and the most important thing for us today is the humanitarian crisis and the migration that afflicts our border with Mexico,” Arreaga said.