Asylum in Guatemala? Really?

The United States and Guatemala have entered into an agreement, the US-Guatemala Asylum Cooperation Agreement (ACA), that denies people from El Salvador and Honduras the right to apply for asylum in the US. Instead these asylum seekers are being sent to Guatemala to apply for asylum. I can’t believe I’m writing this but it’s true. Asylum in Guatemala? Really? There are thousands of people fleeing Guatemala and seeking asylum in the US now and as of November 2019 there were 230,306 pending Guatemalan cases in US immigration courts, most of them seeking asylum.[1] KIAC alone has 55 open asylum cases from Guatemala.

According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) in Guatemala the Guatemalan asylum office has only four officers and as of late 2019 it had not resolved a single case that year. “While Guatemala is signatory of international refugee conventions and created its own asylum system in 2001, it receives so few applications that the commission that adjudicates cases rarely meets, according to international experts who note the pressing nature of other national priorities such as combating poverty, unemployment, insecurity, organized crime, gang violence, and corruption.”[2]

Salvadorians and Hondurans seeking asylum, who present themselves or are caught at the US border will be screened to see if they have a credible fear of being sent to Guatemala. They are not entitled to representation in this interview. If they can establish that they are more likely than not to be persecuted or tortured in Guatemala they will not be sent to Guatemala. Most of the people this applies to traveled quickly through Guatemala because their goal was to reach safety in the US. It is improbable that they will be able to establish that they are more likely than not to be persecuted or tortured in Guatemala. So off they will go to a country that is not equipped to evaluate or adjudicate their asylum claim and that is itself one of the most dangerous countries in Central America. We need to speak out against this inhumane practice. Please contact your Congressperson and Senator and ask them to work to end the agreement.


[1] Immigration Court Backlog Tool – Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University https://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/ last visited 01/12/2020

[2] Guatemala’s “embryonic” asylum system lacks capacity to serve as safe U.S. partner, experts say – https://www.univision.com/univision-news/immigration/guatemalas-embryonic-asylum-system-lacks-capacity-to-serve-as-safe-u-s-partner-experts-say