Seeking Asylum in Guatemala is Completely Appropriate

Even before the ink could dry on the recent “safe third country” asylum agreement signed between the United States and Guatemala, mainstream media and open borders advocates claimed that the Northern Triangle country is not suitable for migrants seeking asylum. One went so far as to call it “jaw-droppingly insane.” 

What is insane is the reluctance of many to recognize the gains – economic, political, and social– that have taken place in Guatemala over the last decade and enable the country to offer safe haven to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution from their governments. 

The new “safe third country” proposal between the United States and Guatemala requires migrants passing through Guatemala to apply for asylum there before applying for asylum in the United States.

Within the last decade, Guatemala has significantly improved its country’s conditions making it a suitable destination for migrants seeking refuge. Guatemala’s Minister of Governance, Enrique Degenhart, who signed the “safe third country” agreement with President Trump, confirmed that his country has seen notable economic and security progress in recent years.

Degenhart is right. The Guatemalan economy has improved over the last decade. Between 2007 and 2017, their annual GDP more than doubled, increasing from $34 billion to $76 billion. Meanwhile, the country’s unemployment rate fell from 4.13 percent in 2011, to 2.73 percent in 2018.

Degenhart is also right when it comes to the country’s progress in improving its security. In fact, between 2011 and 2017, the Guatemalan homicide rate dropped from 38.6 per 100,000 individuals to 19.0 per 100,000 individuals. That means the nation’s homicide rate is lower that of some U.S. cities, such as St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, and yes, Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore. 

As a Guatemalan-American who has journeyed throughout the country many times with family and friends who still reside there, I can attest to the fact that Guatemala is transitioning from a developing nation, to one with an economy in transition and a stable political climate.

Most Central Americans who transit through Guatemala on their way to the United States are searching for better economic opportunities. However, seeking better economic opportunities does not qualify someone for asylum in the United States, which is why immigration courts approve asylum for only 11 percent of asylum seekers.

It’s also worth noting that a recent poll found that 91.1 percent of Guatemalans who do migrate, are doing so in search of better wages. Those Guatemalan migrants are not fleeing persecution. More importantly, there is no reason to believe that anyone seeking asylum in Guatemala would be subject to such persecution at the hands of the Guatemalan government.   

The humanitarian and public safety crisis at the border created by those wishing to exploit our asylum laws is rampant. Asylum applications have soared, rising from 42,836 in FY 2008 to 162,060 in FY 2018 – a 278 percent surge. It only makes sense to keep migrants from making a perilous journey to seek asylum for which they will not qualify. Some 30 percent of women report being sexually assaulted and 70 percent of all migrants report facing violence during this trek.

Clearly, seeking safe haven in Guatemala isn’t as economically lucrative as seeking safe haven in the U.S.  But asylum isn’t about seeking the best economy, it’s about seeking refuge from a government that’s persecuting you. And on that front, Guatemala fits the bill.