Biden administration takes steps to dismantle Trump-era asylum agreements

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The Biden administration has begun the process of ending agreements with El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala as part of its effort to undo Trump-era changes to the U.S. asylum system, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Saturday.

The announcement means the termination of three asylum cooperative agreements that the U.S. signed in 2019 with each of the Central American countries to require migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. to first apply for protections in those countries.

The deals — effectively known as safe third country agreements — were part of former President Donald Trump and his administration’s efforts to curb the number of migrants able to seek asylum in the United States. They allowed the U.S. to deport migrants seeking asylum back to those countries, where hundreds of thousands have fled.

“In line with the President’s vision, we have notified the Governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras that the United States is taking this action as efforts to establish a cooperative, mutually respectful approach to managing migration across the region begin,” Blinken said.

The agreement with Guatemala was already in effect, but transfers under that agreement have been paused since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Blinken said in the statement. The agreements with El Salvador and Honduras were never fully implemented.

“The Biden administration believes there are more suitable ways to work with our partner governments to manage migration across the region,” Blinken said.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed three immigration-related executive orders with one focused on revamping the U.S. asylum system and how it handles migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The others called for policy reviews, planning and recommendations on next steps, so Blinken’s announcement is one of the first specific changes to take place.

The executive order set into motion Blinken’s move. It specified the Secretary would “promptly consider” whether to notify the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that the U.S. was planning to end the agreements. It also specified that the DHS secretary and the attorney general would review and determine whether to rescind the rule that implements the asylum cooperative agreements.

The same order directed Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to review the Migrant Protection Protocols program, which has forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they wait for their U.S. court proceedings.

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