WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Guatemala are close to reaching a safe third country agreement as part of an effort to curb U.S-bound migrants, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, offering no details about when such a deal might be finalised.
Trump, who made the remarks at a gathering of religious conservatives in Washington, had said last week that a pact was close, but Guatemala’s interior minister said the Central American nation had made no commitment yet.
The U.S. Homeland Security Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If Guatemala accepted such an agreement, it would be obliged to process asylum claims from migrants who entered its territory first while en route to another country. That could apply to U.S.-bound Honduran or Salvadoran migrants passing through Guatemala.
Neighbouring Mexico has so far refused to take on the safe third country role despite pressure from Washington to do more to stem migration across its southern border with Guatemala.
A surge in migrant families seeking asylum, mostly from Central America, has overwhelmed U.S. border facilities.
Cracking down on immigration has been a priority for Trump, but he has proven unable to push most of his programs through the U.S. Congress.
Trump moved earlier this month to cut U.S. aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras over migration, although he said last week that Guatemala “is much different than it was under past administrations.”
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Susan Thomas)