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U.S. seeks migration deals with Honduras, El Salvador

U.S. seeks migration deals with Honduras, El Salvador
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan holds a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria -
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By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALACITY (Reuters) – The U.S. homeland security chief said in Guatemala on Thursday that the United States is pursuing “similar agreements” with Honduras and El Salvador on migration, extending a drive to turn the region into a buffer zone for U.S.-bound migrants.

U.S. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan made the announcement in Guatemala after the Central American country last week agreed to become a “safe third country” to accept migrants trying to reach the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed Mexico and Guatemala to sign such agreements to make asylum seekers passing through their territory solicit safe haven in those countries, instead of the United States, where authorities have been struggling to cope with a surge in illegal immigration this year.

Mexico has so far refused, and Guatemala only agreed after Trump threatened to impose what President Jimmy Morales described on Facebook as “drastic” economic sanctions against the country, which is heavily dependent on billions of dollars in remittances sent home by Guatemalans in the United States.

Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart said on Thursday that the country would only accept migrants from El Salvador and Honduras under the deal with the United States.

“We will orient (the programme) to the primary nationalities that, in the case of Honduras and El Salvador, represent almost half” of migrants detained at the United States’ southern border, Degenhart told reporters.

U.S. officials are already on the ground in Guatemala as part of the deal to curb migrant flows, he added.

The deal allows Guatemalans to apply for temporary visas to work in the agricultural sectors in the United States and, eventually, for jobs in the construction and service sectors.

Speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Guatemala City, McAleenan said that the United States welcomes the participation of Guatemalan agricultural workers in the U.S. economy.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; writing by Julia Love; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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