Trump threatens Guatemala after its court blocks asylum deal

President Donald Trump, Photo Date: 1/17/2019 / Photo: Tia Dufour / The White House / (MGN)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened retribution against Guatemala over immigration after the country's high court blocked its government from signing an asylum deal with the United States.

Trump tweeted that Guatemala has decided against signing a "safe-third agreement" requiring Central American migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to instead apply for those protections in Guatemala, even though the Guatemalan government never said it had agreed to make such a deal.

"Guatemala, which has been forming Caravans and sending large numbers of people, some with criminal records, to the United States, has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go," Trump complained. "Now we are looking at the 'BAN,'" he wrote, along with tariffs, fees on remittance money Guatemalans working in the U.S. send back to their country, "or all of the above."

"Guatemala has not been good," he wrote. There is no evidence that the Guatemalan government had anything to do with organizing the migrant caravans or "sending" people to the United States.

Guatemala's top Constitutional Court recently granting three injunctions preventing President Jimmy Morales from signing an agreement. The injunctions had been sought by a group including three former Guatemalan foreign ministers.

A July 15 meeting between Trump and Guatemala's president was also called off because the high court had yet to issue its ruling.

Morales spokesman Alfredo Brito said the government did not have an immediate reaction, but would be issuing a statement later in the day.

"Guatemala never talked about signing a safe third country agreement" with Washington, Brito said.

A joint statement between the countries issued Monday also made no mention of such of "safe-third," even as it said the two governments "continue to make important progress on a comprehensive regional approach to addressing irregular migration patterns" and cited joint efforts "to reduce the flow of irregular migration and ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable populations, especially children."

A "safe-third agreement" would mean that Salvadorans, Hondurans and people from elsewhere who cross into Guatemala would have to apply for asylum there instead of doing so at the U.S. border — potentially easing the crush of migrants overwhelming the U.S. immigration system and handing Trump a concession he could herald as a win.

Critics have said that the Guatemalan government does not have the resources to help migrants and asylum-seekers trying hoping to make it to the U.S. when tens of thousands of its own citizens have fled just this year.

U.S. officials had said that a "safe third country" was on the table, though not finalized, even as the Guatemalan government said it was not intending to make such a deal. The same pattern has played out with Mexico, with Trump insisting that they had agreed to a secret "third safe" deal, even as that country has denied that.

Trump and his administration have made numerous attempts to try to prevent migrants from legally claiming asylum in the U.S., including issuing a new rule last week that would deny asylum to anyone who passes through other countries en route to the U.S. without seeking refuge in at least one of those countries.

Two lawsuits were filed challenging the move and a judge in Washington, D.C., heard arguments Monday. A judge in San Francisco has set a hearing for Wednesday in a similar lawsuit.

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Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City contributed to this report.

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