Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Representative Joaquin Castro, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations; and Representative Albio Sires, Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, today launched an inquiry into the State Department’s role in crafting agreements with El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to accept migrants seeking asylum in the United States. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the lawmakers warned that vulnerable asylum seekers face unacceptable risks in these three countries and that the Trump Administration’s asylum cooperation agreements (ACAs) with those governments run afoul of the law.

Chairmen Engel, Castro, and Sires wrote, “Core elements of America’s modern asylum and refugee laws were enacted as a deliberate response to the Holocaust.  They are more than just a set of legal obligations, but a principled declaration that never again shall this country or any other be free to turn its back on the world’s most vulnerable people or to send them onward to situations that are as dangerous as or worse than those that they originally fled.  The Guatemala ACA violates the law, betrays these values, and puts the lives of asylum seekers at risk, all with the full knowledge of the Trump Administration; the proposed agreements with Honduras and El Salvador threaten to do the same.”

In their letter, Engel, Castro, and Sires underscored the disastrous results of the first agreement, struck with Guatemala.

They wrote, “since late 2019, the Administration has already deported 698 asylum seekers to Guatemala under the ACA, 324 of whom had fled here with their families.  This was done on the theory that these people could simply apply for asylum in Guatemala instead.  But of these 698, only 24 – less than 4% – have even been able to seek protection through Guatemala’s nascent, overburdened asylum system.  DHS officials admitted that they have no knowledge of, and no ability to find out, what became of the remaining 96%.”

The Trump Administration is now proposing similar Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs) with El Salvador and Honduras.

“Rather than learning from the tragic consequences of the Guatemala ACA, the Trump Administration is now doubling down by signing ACAs with El Salvador and Honduras, countries which State Department reporting indicates also have utterly insufficient asylum procedures in place,” wrote the Chairmen.

Chairmen Engel, Castro, and Sires have demanded a briefing from senior State Department officials and the production of State Department records by March 13, 2020.

The letter to Secretary Pompeo can be found here.

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