On September 20, 2019, the United States and El Salvador governments signed a Protection Cooperative Agreement. The Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Kevin K. McAleenan signed on behalf of the United States. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alexandra Hill Tinoco signed on behalf of El Salvador.
According to a joint statement, the Agreement recognizes El Salvador’s recent decision to join the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework. It states it will use U.S. and international best practices to “enhance collaboration on building protection capacity and increase protection options closer to home for vulnerable populations.”
The two governments commit to responding to “the issue of irregular migration in a joint and humane way that will contribute to greater prosperity and security of the region.” The Agreement shows the partnership between both governments “to discourage dangerous irregular migration across Central America toward the U.S. and to combat transnational criminal organizations, strengthen border security, and reduce human trafficking and smuggling.”
Once the Agreement becomes effective, it will further expand the capacity of protection systems in the region. The joint statement does not state when the agreement will take effect and what will be required. The U.S. and Guatemala signed a similar agreement in July in the waning days of the Jimmy Morales Administration. However, the Guatemala Constitutional Court ruled that the Parliament must approved the policy before it takes effect.
The Cooperative Agreement follows the Letter of Intent signed by Acting Secretary McAleenan with the Government of El Salvador last month in San Salvador to intensify bilateral cooperation in key areas.
A leading journal in El Salvador observes that the country with the most asylum applicants in 2018 has now agreed to accept asylum applicants that Trump rejects.
The joint statement expresses that “(i)n recent months, Acting Secretary McAleenan has also forged partnerships with Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama to disrupt human and drug smuggling operations and address the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
While the agreement aligns with the administration’s “third country” asylum rule, that term was not used in the press conference between the two signatories announcing the agreement.
The obligation for asylees to look for refuge in the countries from which they flee contradicts what travel warnings of the U.S. Department of State. As of January 28, 2019, the State Department issued a travel advisory with respect to El Salvador, advising:
“Reconsider travel to El Salvador due to crime…Violent crime, such as murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery, is common. Gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime, and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.”
Various international human rights organizations observe that a country with the sixth highest number of persons seeking asylum in 2018 does not meet the conditions to protect asylees in its territory.
Charanya Krishnaswami, the advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA, criticized the agreement, stating: “This agreement makes a mockery of the right to asylum. People should not be forced to seek safety in countries where they will not be safe. She continued that “El Salvador has one of the highest rates of violence in the world, including gender-based violence so rampant that Amnesty International declared it one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. It is not safe for its own citizens, much less for asylum-seekers.”
The October issue of the IELR will have additional information on the agreement and the El Salvador initiative to strengthen patrolling of its borders, which the United States government is partially financing.