Trump administration to deport Mexican asylum-seekers to Guatemala: report

Trump administration to deport Mexican asylum-seekers to Guatemala: report
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The Trump administration is planning to deport Mexican asylum-seekers to Guatemala, BuzzFeed News reported on Monday.

Officials received guidance indicating Mexican asylum-seekers were to be included in a controversial program that began sending asylum-seekers to Guatemala in late November, according to the news outlet. 

Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said in December that Mexicans would be included in the program.

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While the program was originally planned for just the El Paso, Texas, area, it was extended to the Rio Grande Valley. Forty-three asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras have been deported to Guatemala as of late December, BuzzFeed noted, adding that the plan was initially supposed to only apply to adults but was expanded to include families on Dec. 10.

The administration has reportedly taken several steps to dissuade people from migrating to the U.S. and limit the number of asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. But advocates and asylum officers have told BuzzFeed that sending the asylum-seekers to Guatemala is not legal and could put them in jeopardy.

Migrants go through interviews with asylum officers, in which they have no access to legal counsel, that will determine if they can be deported to Guatemala, according to BuzzFeed. The asylum-seekers need to outright say they are afraid of persecution or torture in Guatemala and prove that is “more likely than not” to happen in order to avoid being deported, the news outlet added.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that under the Guatemala Asylum Cooperative Agreement, "certain Mexicans seeking humanitarian protections in the United States may now be eligible to be transferred to Guatemala and given the opportunity to seek protection there."

Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. was planning to send asylum-seekers to Honduras, regardless of whether they were from there, to prevent them from making claims to stay in the U.S. 

A DHS spokesperson told The Hill at the time that the U.S. “does not forcibly remove asylum-seekers to Guatemala to seek asylum.”

"Rather, when they are screened for eligibility, the vast majority of individuals opt to return to their home country instead," the spokesperson said.

Updated at 5:21 p.m.