Sept. 21 (UPI) — The United States signed an agreement on Friday requiring migrants passing through El Salvador on their way to the U.S. border to first request asylum in the Central American country.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan and El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill signed the accord.
Under the deal, the United States agreed to work with the United Nations to help El Salvador improve its asylum system and curb violence in the country. El Salvador is seeing an exodus of migrants traveling to the United States to seek asylum in an effort to flee gang violence.
“El Salvador has not been able to give our people enough security or opportunities so that they can stay and thrive,” Hill said.
McAleenan said the United States may deny asylum to migrants who passed through El Salvador to reach the United States.
“The core of it is recognizing El Salvador’s development of their own asylum system and a commitment to help them build that capacity,” he said. “As we work together to target irregular migration flows through the region, that is one potential use of the agreement: that individuals crossing through El Salvador should be able to seek protection there — and we want to enforce the integrity of that process throughout the region.”
Activists said the agreement will make it difficult for migrants from Nicaragua and Venezuela to pass through El Salvador, which NBC News reported has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
“El Salvador isn’t a safe place for its own citizens, so to deem it safe for refugees seeking asylum would be simply laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous and deadly,” Eleanor Acer, of Human Rights First, said. “This agreement not only belittles the dangers these vulnerable people face, but it threatens the safety of refugees fleeing from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other countries.”
The United States previously announced plans for a similar agreement in Guatemala, though it has yet to be implemented.
The United States has seen an influx of migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in recent months, and has attempted to implement a number of new policies to crack down on asylum seekers. In July, officials announced a rule preventing people who pass through another country first to seek asylum in the United States.