New Senate Democrats Report: Documenting Cruelty, Coercion, and Legal Contortions in Trump Administration’s Asylum Agreements

Jan 19, 2021
4:41 PM

On Monday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff released a report on the United States’ Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs) with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The report was comissioned by incoming Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and explained “how the ACAs were effectively designed to punish people seeking safety in the U.S. by forcibly sending them to countries where access to protection from persecution and violence is virtually nonexistent,” a media release about the report said.

“Nobody imagined that America’s asylum policies would be systematically weaponized and twisted to the point where they purposely put vulnerable people in danger, yet that is exactly what President Trump did with his shameful Asylum Cooperative Agreements,” Senator Menendez said in the release. “This report exposes how the Trump administration made a mockery of the U.S. asylum system, subverting U.S. law and undermining our leadership on refugee matters.”

The report made the following conclusions, which the release listed:

  • Since implementation of the first ACA began over one year ago, not one of the 945 asylum seekers transferred from the United States to Guatemala has been granted asylum.
  • The ACAs appear to violate both U.S. law and the United States’ international obligations by sending refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
  • Former Attorney General William Barr and former DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan determined that Guatemala provides “full and fair” access to asylum based on partial truths and ignored State Department concerns.
  • Asylum seekers transferred from the United States to Guatemala under the ACA were subjected to degrading treatment and effectively coerced to return to Honduras or El Salvador where many feared persecution and harm.
  • The White House and DHS used coercive tactics to compel the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to sign the ACAs.
  • The Trump administration continues to maintain secrecy and obstruct Congressional oversight of the negotiations and implementation of the ACAs.

“As we focus on finishing our decades-long fight for a fair and humane immigration system, the incoming administration must immediately cancel these disastrous agreements to deliver on the President-elect’s promise to reverse the degrading treatment of people fleeing persecution and violence,” Menendez added. “Congress and the Administration must renew our commitment to the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the post-Trump era.”

The released also noted that “the report makes the case for the Biden administration to terminate the ACAs with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador as a necessary first step to restore U.S. leadership in upholding the right to seek asylum and in protecting refugees at home and around the world. It also recommends Congress pass legislative reforms strengthening accountability for legitimately safe third country agreements.”

The full report is below: