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Trump administration OKs aid to Central American countries praised for immigration help

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The State Department official who spoke to the Times for this article said officials were "disappointed" at the Honduras decision, but hopeful that other entities created by the government may be able to take up investigations.

In their certification report, State Department officials cite the Hernandez government's "robust" cooperation on immigration, its 148% increase in arrests of migrants in 2019 and the 90% drop in Hondurans being captured by the U.S. Border Patrol from May 2019 to February 2020.

Diplomats, academics and others who study Latin American and immigration policy say the Trump administration appears to be willing to look the other way on other issues in exchange for cooperation on immigration. But those other issues, such as human rights and violence, in fact are major generators of migration.

All three countries have entered controversial agreements with the Trump administration to take back Central Americans who have attempted to enter the U.S. illegally, and to allow repatriation of citizens attempting to apply legally for asylum in the U.S. Under international convention, people fleeing their homelands out of fear of persecution or death should be allowed to apply for asylum and remain in the country where they make the application, in this case the U.S.

The agreements have allowed the U.S. to essentially end asylum, reversing generations of practice, while migrants are forced to wait not in the U.S., but in Mexico or Central American countries with some of the highest homicide rates in the world.

"Instead of building the rule of law and institutions of accountability, the administration has let those be undermined in return for governments giving full support to stop people from leaving," said Andrew Selee, president of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and an expert on Latin America.

"The impetus is so strong on immigration that they (administration officials) are willing to give governments that cooperate a pass on things that would have caused alarm bells in another moment," Selee said.

 

Hernandez, the Honduran president, was elected to a second term, after he oversaw changes in the law to allow his reelection in late 2017, a questionable victory that triggered days of deadly demonstrations in the country. The U.S. quickly recognized the Hernandez victory, ignoring the conclusions of international election monitors who detected widespread fraud.

Both El Salvador and Guatemala have newer presidents, respectively, Nayib Bukele, inaugurated a year ago, and Alejandro Giammattei, who took office in January.

Much like Honduras, the countries were given mixed assessments in the State report, but praised for their halting of immigration. Those measures have drawn considerable domestic protest.

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