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The Honduran government has agreed a special asylum agreement with the United States to become a 'safe third country' for Cubans and Nicaraguans seeking to reach the United States to apply for asylum, according to diplomatic sources.
The agreement, first reported by the Honduran newspaper La Prensa and later confirmed by Univision News sources, follows similar agreements with Guatemala and Mexico as part of the Trump adminsitration's strategy to strangle the flow on the southern border between the United States and Mexico.
The State Department declined to comment and referred questions about the agreement to the White House, which did not immediately respond to a request from Univision for confirmation. The Honduran presidency also did not respond to a request for comment.
In recent months there has been an increase in immigrants seeking to enter the United States from other countries, in addition to Mexico and the nations of the so-called Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador).
The decision was made at a meeting on August 26 in Washington between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, according to sources.
There was no immediate mention of the agreement at that time. Instead, after the meeting, both governments issued a statement "regarding a shared commitment to improve security and address irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere."
That included shared efforts "to investigate and prosecute those involved in the organization of massive violations of immigration law and crimes of trafficking in persons," as well as "the expansion of legal immigration from Honduras to support the commercial interests of the United States."
The Honduran government also agreed to accelerate the approval of deportations of its citizens, as well as to allow the "mixed" transfer by plane of adults and children.
After the meeting, Hernández told the media in Honduras that so far this year 30,000 people from Africa, South America, Cuba and Haiti had entered Honduras, adding that the number could reach 70,000 by the end of the year. “For us this is a delicate and difficult matter to handle; that's why we come to make the approach that we have to work together, with shared responsibility, although differential," he said.
According to the newspaper La Prensa, 57% of the migrants were from Cuba, citing official sources. "We imagine the enormous weight, the enormous social problem that this enormous number of people will remain stagnant or accumulated in Honduras and we, as a country, could not stop serving them," Hernández said.
As part of the agreement, the United States agreed to provide funds to implement the plan, including the possible sending of federal agents to Honduras, according to diplomatic sources.
Hernandez is under pressure both at home and in the United States after the Justice Department recently named him in a major drug trafficking and money laundering case in New York that involves one of his brothers. The case goes to trial in October.
By the numbers
The 'safe third country' agreement would commit Honduras to receive and protect thousands of migrants from countries outside Central America. Hernández's concern points to the number of migrants that Honduras could receive as of the implementation of the agreement. According to data from the Office of Customs and Border Control (CBP), there were 390,308 apprehensions of family units on the Mexican border in June this year.
Of these, 366,530 correspond to Mexicans and Central Americans and 23,778 were immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and South America, according to preliminary data provided by the National Immigration Institute (INM) of Honduras.
In July, according to CBP data, a total of 432,838 family units were apprehended at the Mexican border. Of these, 403,195 correspond to Mexicans and Central Americans, and 29,643 would correspond to immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean and South America, according to preliminary data provided by the National Immigration Institute (INM) of Honduras.