January 18, 2021

Menendez Publishes New Report Documenting Cruelty, Coercion, and Legal Contortions in Trump Administration’s Asylum Agreements

Incoming Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Reveals that Not a Single Asylum Seeker Transferred from the United States Received Asylum in Guatemala; Calls on Biden Administration to Terminate Agreements Immediately

WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff today is releasing a report commissioned by incoming Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on the United States’ Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs) with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Exposing one of the most draconian immigration policies instituted under the Trump administration, the report demonstrates how the ACAs were effectively designed to punish people seeking safety in the U.S. by forcibly sending them to countries where access to protection from persecution and violence is virtually nonexistent.

“Nobody imagined that America’s asylum policies would be systematically weaponized and twisted to the point where they purposely put vulnerable people in danger, yet that is exactly what President Trump did with his shameful Asylum Cooperative Agreements,” Senator Menendez said. “This report exposes how the Trump administration made a mockery of the U.S. asylum system, subverting U.S. law and undermining our leadership on refugee matters.”

Entitled Cruelty, Coercion, and Legal Contortions: The Trump Administration’s Unsafe Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the oversight report concludes:

  • Since implementation of the first ACA began over one year ago, not one of the 945 asylum seekers transferred from the United States to Guatemala has been granted asylum.
  • The ACAs appear to violate both U.S. law and the United States’ international obligations by sending refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened;
  • Former Attorney General William Barr and former DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan determined that Guatemala provides “full and fair” access to asylum based on partial truths and ignored State Department concerns;
  • Asylum seekers transferred from the United States to Guatemala under the ACA were subjected to degrading treatment and effectively coerced to return to Honduras or El Salvador where many feared persecution and harm;
  • The White House and DHS used coercive tactics to compel the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to sign the ACAs; and
  • The Trump administration continues to maintain secrecy and obstruct Congressional oversight of the negotiations and implementation of the ACAs.

“As we focus on finishing our decades-long fight for a fair and humane immigration system, the incoming administration must immediately cancel these disastrous agreements to deliver on the President-elect’s promise to reverse the degrading treatment of people fleeing persecution and violence,” Menendez added. “Congress and the Administration must renew our commitment to the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the post-Trump era.”

The report makes the case for the Biden administration to terminate the ACAs with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as a necessary first step to restore U.S. leadership in upholding the right to seek asylum and in protecting refugees at home and around the world. It also recommends Congress pass legislative reforms strengthening accountability for legitimately safe third country agreements.

Cruelty, Coercion, and Legal Contortions: The Trump Administration’s Unsafe Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is the latest installment in a series of oversight reports commissioned by Ranking Member Menendez in an effort for Congress to build a body of work documenting the Trump administration’s unprecedented undermining of U.S. foreign policy, attacks on America’s democratic institutions, and disdain for our nation’s diplomatic professionals and public servants.

Click HERE for Cruelty, Coercion, and Legal Contortions: The Trump Administration’s Unsafe Asylum Cooperative Agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Click HERE for Annex 3 (key DOJ, DHS, and State Department documents related to the U.S.-Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement).

Click HERE for Annex 4 (State Department responses to SFRC questions for the record).

Click HERE for Annex 5 (correspondence between U.S. Senators and the Trump administration).

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Press Contact

Juan Pachon