Trump threatens Guatemala with penalties over migration

Trump threatens Guatemala with penalties over migration
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE on Tuesday threatened Guatemala with tariffs, remittance fees and other penalties one day after the two countries issued a joint statement touting "important progress" on addressing migration.

The president's ire toward the Northern Triangle nation came as he claimed it "decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement."

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"Guatemala, which has been forming Caravans and sending large numbers of people, some with criminal records, to the United States, has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. We were ready to go," Trump tweeted.

"Now we are looking at the 'BAN,' Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above," he continued. "Guatemala has not been good. Big U.S. taxpayer dollars going to them was cut off by me 9 months ago."

 

It's unclear what Trump was referring to by "BAN." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The two countries had not formally committed to such a deal, which would require Guatemala to process asylum claims from migrants who set foot there first while headed to another country. Guatemala's Constitutional Court earlier this month blocked President Jimmy Morales from declaring the nation a safe third country.

Trump has been openly critical of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in recent months, asserting that those nations have not done enough to prevent their citizens from leaving to seek asylum in the U.S.

The administration cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the three Northern Triangle countries earlier this year before reversing course and allowing roughly two-thirds of the money to go forward.

Despite Trump's outrage, U.S. officials have spoken regularly of the importance of cooperating with nations like Guatemala to curb the flow of migrants.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint statement with the Guatemalan government on Monday stating that the two sides "have entered into several agreements" to address the influx of migrants moving toward the U.S.

The two countries are working toward signing an agreement to provide further protections to Guatemalan workers in the U.S. on visas and expanding access to regular access to migration avenues in Guatemala, according to the statement.

The statement, which spoke of "working cooperatively" and "strengthening the relationship" between the two countries, was at odds with Trump's tweets.

"By strengthening the relationship between the two countries through such agreements, the U.S. and Guatemala, as partners, will better protect the most vulnerable populations of Guatemala while confronting irregular migration," the governments said.

The Trump administration has been pressuring Mexico and Guatemala — the transit countries for Salvadoran and Honduran migrants — to adopt safe third country agreements similar to the one the United States has with Canada. 

The U.S.-Canada agreement is best understood as a border management compact to avoid refugee traffic on the countries' physical border.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard declined to discuss the possibility of such an agreement over a weekend meeting with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Putin orders response to US missile test The Hill's Morning Report: How will Trump be received at G-7? MORE, touting the country's migration reduction efforts over the past month. 

But Guatemala has had less success fending off U.S. advances toward a safe third country agreement.

Earlier this month, Morales canceled at the last minute a visit to Washington, where he allegedly was ready to sign such an agreement, in what would've been a foreign policy win for Trump.

Morales canceled the trip after the Guatemalan high court blocked the government from signing that agreement, although Morales in a statement said he never intended to sign it.

“The government of the republic reiterates that at no moment has it contemplated signing an agreement to convert Guatemala into a safe third country,” read the statement.

Rafael Bernal contributed to this report, which was updated at 9:14 a.m.