A Bold New Approach to Reduce Irregular Migration

By Luis E. Arreaga, U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala

The United States and Guatemala have long enjoyed a close relationship centered on our shared pursuit of mutual interests.  For decades, we have supported Guatemala’s return to democracy and helped to strengthen rule of law.  We have collaborated to increase prosperity by working with governments past and present, the private sector, and civil society to improve economic opportunity and social mobility.  We have also worked together to combat transnational criminal organizations.  Additionally, we have continuously emphasized the need to increase support to Guatemala’s most vulnerable groups.  The United States firmly believes that a safe, prosperous, well-governed Guatemala is in our own national interest, and is committed to continue partnering with the current Guatemalan government and its next elected leaders to achieve these shared goals.

The United States and Guatemala also share an urgent need to work together to confront the security and humanitarian crisis on the U.S. southern border. Since October of last year alone, the U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended or deemed inadmissible for entry more than 250,000 Guatemalans attempting to enter the United States illegally.  President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo have been frank on this issue: the Northern Triangle governments must take decisive action to stem irregular migration to the United States.  For years, the United States has sought to address irregular migration — including abuse of our generous asylum system. We have asked our partners to do their part – and in that regard, the government of Guatemala has taken a definitive and positive step by agreeing to share the burden and accept asylum seekers from the United States. Through this cooperative agreement, the government of Guatemala has recognized the importance of its own role in helping stem irregular migration and reaffirmed its longstanding partnership with the United States. We are prepared to help Guatemala help the United States.

The status quo is not sustainable.  Guatemalan children and families have fallen victim to a dangerous cycle of human smuggling that puts the most vulnerable populations at risk.  This, in turn, is tearing at the fabric of local Guatemalan communities.  The incentive to take the dangerous trek north has been marketed and leveraged to create a billion dollar business that profits some of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world.  Addressing those incentives is an integral step toward reducing those incentives, thereby investing in Guatemalan’s regional security.

Reducing the flow of irregular migration is best achieved by enhancing capacity and long-term economic development in Guatemala. With respect to enhancing capacity, we appreciate that Guatemala committed to strengthening its asylum and migration systems in 2017 when it signed the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework.  The United States continues to support the Guatemalan government’s efforts to reform its asylum system and could, subject to the President’s approval, provide more enhanced support to Guatemala’s refugee protection system, as well as supporting the development of a voluntary return capability.

Providing economic support, as outlined in the cooperative agreement, and subject to the President’s approval, could take the form of increased overseas private investment, U.S. development assistance, and additional U.S. investment to develop Guatemala’s private sector and to create jobs in the Western Highlands – the region of highest out-migration.  Guatemala and the United States are also working together to increase access to legal forms of migration, such as temporary work visas. As President Trump stated, “This agreement will usher in a new era of investment and growth for Guatemala, and sets the stage for cooperation between our countries and expanding access to visas for agricultural and farm workers.”

The United States welcomes this agreement and the steps Guatemala has taken to combat irregular migration and do its part to help the United States address this crisis. We look forward to its implementation, in accordance with the necessary legal requirements in both our nations. As President Trump said, “We’re investing in the future of Guatemala, the safety of migrants and their families.  We’ll protect the rights of those with legitimate claims, and we’ll end the widespread abuse of the [asylum] system and the crippling crisis on our border.”