The Trump administration said on Tuesday that it has signed an agreement with El Salvador’s government to send asylum-seekers who reach US borders to the Central American nation to seek protection there instead, the Associated Press reports.
The agreement is modelled on arrangements that the US has reached with El Salvador’s neighbors, Guatemala and Honduras.
But only 20 of nearly 1,000 Hondurans and El Salvadorans who have been turned back from the US and flown to Guatemala have decided to seek asylum there. With so many returning to their home countries instead, the policy became known as “deportation with a layover”.
Flights to Guatemala began late last year and were then halted when Covid-19 struck. Flights to Honduras were expected to begin earlier this year, but the pandemic put them on indefinite hold.
The US Homeland Security Department didn’t give an anticipated start date for flights to El Salvador, but it will almost certainly hinge on the pandemic’s retreat and president-elect Joe Biden’s policies.
Without identifying eligible nationalities or criteria, Homeland Security said, “certain migrants requesting asylum or similar humanitarian protection at the US border will be transferred to El Salvador to seek protection there”.
Critics say conditions in the Central American countries are woefully inadequate for asylum-seekers. The US State Department says organized criminal groups in El Salvador commit murder, extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking against “members of vulnerable populations” and other groups.
Biden pledged on his campaign website to end Trump’s “detrimental” asylum policies but did not specifically mention the asylum agreements with Central American governments. Representatives of his transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the AP.