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Honduras asylum agreement unlawful and unsafe for migrants

Honduras asylum agreement unlawful and unsafe for migrants
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Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Trump administration is preparing to send asylum-seekers to Honduras — even if they are not from Honduras. Under an “Asylum Cooperation Agreement” signed in September, adults and families seeking asylum at our southern border can be sent to Honduras, denying them the opportunity to apply for asylum here. The U.S. already has a similar agreement to send some asylum-seekers to Guatemala, which took effect last month.

This agreement with Honduras is unlawful and unsafe. It represents the latest assault by the administration on our asylum system. Sending vulnerable migrants to Honduras will endanger their lives, and for some it could well amount to a death sentence.

The L.A. Times notes that, under the agreement, if Honduras rejects a person’s asylum claim, then they will be precluded from seeking asylum in the U.S. So not only is the U.S. outsourcing a huge problem to a tiny nation, it is planning to use that process as a pretext for stripping asylum-seekers of their chance to present their claims here.

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This is a harrowing precedent. To be clear, when asylum-seekers arrive at the border or enter the country, they are not breaking the law. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and international agreements like the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 UN Protocol on Refugees, people fleeing persecution in their home countries can qualify for humanitarian relief in the U.S. provided they meet certain conditions.

But the Trump administration is trampling on these rights in violation of the INA. Under the INA, exceptions to asylum law can only be made for designated safe third countries where asylum-seekers will “not be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group” and where “the alien would have access to a full and fair procedure for determining a claim to asylum or equivalent temporary protection.” Honduras does not meet either of those requirements.

Honduras is not safe for its own citizens, let alone for outsiders with no familial ties or social networks. In June, the State Department issued a travel advisory for Honduras, noting: “Violent crime, such as homicide and armed robbery, is common… violent street crime, rape, and narcotics and human trafficking, is widespread.” The advisory mentions that local law enforcement lacks sufficient resources to respond effectively to crimes. It’s no wonder that in 2018, according to the nonprofit group Kids In Need of Defense, Honduras had only 80 asylum-seekers and refugees; it is far from a safe haven.

Practically speaking, it defies logic that Honduras will be able to fairly adjudicate thousands of potential asylum cases, when our own government has been overwhelmed by the task.

The Asylum Cooperation Agreement is suspect given the political situation in both countries. On the American side, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE was just impeached in the House of Representatives over allegations that he improperly sought a political favor from a foreign leader. His administration has been characterized by secrecy, scandals, and harsh treatment of migrants. In Honduras, president Juan Orlando Hernández has been embroiled in corruption controversies and charges that he and his allies have been operating the country as a narco-state. In August, Hernández was named as a co-conspirator in a drug trafficking case brought by U.S. federal prosecutors, charges he has denied. Still, it is no stretch to say that the well-being and legal rights of asylum-seekers are not a priority for either the Trump or the Hernández administrations.

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It is especially troubling that — once again — the Trump administration is making an end-run around the legislative branch in pursuit of extreme immigration policies. Our asylum system was crafted by Congress, and should not be dismantled by the likes of Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

True, the U.S. has struggled to cope with the large numbers of asylum-seekers at our southern border. However, the solution is not to dump people in Honduras. Sending asylum-seekers there will have unintended and serious consequences. One may be that more people attempt to cross the border illegally, rather than presenting themselves to border patrol officers as asylum-seekers frequently do. Closing off lawful channels of humanitarian relief will also result in more people turning to smugglers. And asylum-seekers sent to Honduras will likely become prey for traffickers and recruitment into criminal gangs. These are all outcomes that could be avoided if the Trump administration chose to live up to its legal and moral responsibilities.

The Trump administration’s Asylum Cooperation Agreement with Honduras is misguided and cruel. Sending asylum-seekers to an unstable, dangerous nation is a repudiation of America’s humanitarian ideals.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.  A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.