New Asylum Cooperative Agreements will affect Asylum Cases in the US

Despite an overruling on one of President Donald Trump’s asylum rules, new Asylum Cooperative Agreements signed between the United States and the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, will continue to restrict asylum cases in the U.S.

Federal Judge Timothy J. Kelly struck down a year-old policy that the Trump administration issued to restrict asylum cases in the U.S.  [1]. The policy would deny asylum to migrants who had failed to apply for asylum in at least one of the countries they passed through on their way to the U.S. Southern Border [2]. Kelly argued that the policy was illegally set in motion after the Trump administration had failed to allow for public opinion on the ruling [1]. This ruling is only one of several other similar Trump administration issued immigration rulings that will affect asylum seekers entering this country. Asylum Cooperation Agreements with the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will remain in effect and will require migrants to apply for asylum in one of these countries before continuing to the U.S..  

The new rulings function in a way similar to America’s Third State Agreement. Signed in 2002 between the United States and Canada, the Third State Agreement was designed to share the responsibility of helping asylum seekers [3]. In 2019, Trump expanded this agreement to the countries of the Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. While these agreements are not directly referred to as a Third State Agreement, they are effectively the same thing [4]. 

The Asylum Cooperative Agreement with Guatemala was signed in May 2019, and the agreements with Honduras and El Salvador were signed in September 2019 [5]. The United States began deporting Central American migrants soon after the signing of the agreements. 

While such agreements are commonplace in other areas of the world, Central American countries that make up the Northern Triangle do not have a strong infrastructure for hearing asylum cases. Guatemala’s deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Hernandez reported to Reuters that there was, “‘only one migrant reception center,’” in the country [6]. This would mean that Guatemala has a limited capacity for processing asylum cases. A Salvadoran newspaper, El Faro, reported that  El Salvador was in an even worse position with only one current asylum officer [4]. These three countries produce high numbers of refugees themselves, raising concern about the safety of these agreements. Despite the concerns, there has yet to be any rulings countering any of the Asylum Cooperative Agreements. 

Judge Kelly's decision to end Trump's ruling will allow for more migrants to apply for asylum in the U.S., but the Asylum Cooperative Agreement will still limit these numbers. The agreements between the U.S.  and the Northern Triangle were signed under more legitimate circumstances. Unlike a treaty, these agreements do not need to be ratified by the Senate. 


[1] Kanno-youngs, Zolan. “Federal Judge Strikes Down Trump Administration's Asylum Rule.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 1, 2020.

[2] Shear, Michael D, and Zolan Kanno Youngs. “Most Migrants at Border With Mexico Would Be Denied Asylum Protections Under New Trump Rule.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 15, 2019.

[3] Fratzke, Susan. “International Experience Suggests Safe Third-Country Agreement Would Not Solve the U.S.-Mexico Border Crisis,” July 24, 2019.

[4] Narea, Nicole. “Trump's Agreements in Central America Are Dismantling the Asylum System as We Know It.” Vox. Vox, September 26, 2019.

[5] Daniel, Frank Jack. “Exclusive: Guatemala Seeks to Limit Migrants Returned under U.S. Asylum Agreement.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, March 6, 2020. .

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