Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit Against ‘Safe Third Country’ Agreements That Violate U.S. and International Law by Returning Individuals to Life-Threatening Conditions

A U.S. Border Patrol agent in El Paso, Texas, directs a group of migrants on to a bus, June 2019

The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Human Rights First, and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies filed a lawsuit this week challenging the Trump administration’s “safe third country” agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. These illegal policies entirely undermine the ability to seek asylum within the United States by forcing individuals and families to return to the same regions from which they are fleeing, placing them in life-threatening conditions while their claims are processed—if they are processed at all. The Trump administration has already sent families and individuals to Guatemala under that agreement without providing key information about their asylum options. As a result, only five of the 143 individuals sent to Guatemala over the past month have applied for asylum.

All three countries lack a functioning, robust asylum system. During a recent interview with “60 Minutes,” President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador explicitly conceded that his country could not keep asylum-seekers safe and, in any event, does not have asylum capacities to process people sent by the United States. U.S. law is crystal clear: Asylum-seekers cannot be shipped off to another country that cannot provide “access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum.” The administration’s illegal “safe third country” agreements betray the United States’ long-held commitment to welcoming persecuted individuals, leave asylum-seekers without protection, and undermine the rule of law in the U.S. immigration system.

For more on how to reframe the immigration debate, see CAP’s report: “Restoring the Rule of Law Through a Fair, Humane, and Workable Immigration System.”