GUATEMALACITY (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Central America on Thursday as the Trump administration presses the region to stop U.S.-bound asylum seekers before they reach the U.S. border.
Pelosi, a Democrat, began in Guatemala, which under threat of economic sanctions struck a deal with Republican President Donald Trump late last month to become a “safe third country.” That will require migrants to seek refuge in Guatemala rather than in the United States.
But critics question whether Guatemala, which faces its own instability, has the resources to handle the potential surge in asylum applications.
U.S. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said this month that the United States wants similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador, where Pelosi will also visit.
McAleenan’s office said on Thursday the number of migrants apprehended or deemed inadmissible on the U.S. border with Mexico fell 21% to 82,049 in July from June.
“The situation is improving by every available metric, but, I want to be very clear, that we remain at and beyond crisis levels in illegal crossings,” McAleenan said in a statement.
According to Customs and Border Protection data, law enforcement actions against Guatemalan migrants fell by 41%, against Salvadorans by 21% and against Hondurans by 16% in July.
Immigration, one of Trump’s signature issues in the 2016 presidential campaign, is already shaping up as a central issue in the November 2020 election. Democrats have sharply criticized Trump’s policies aimed at banning nearly all asylum-seekers from entry, warehousing detainees in crowded quarters and holding children separately from the adults they travelled with.
Pelosi’s office said she would meet with representatives from government, the judiciary and rights groups in Guatemala.
“We look forward to strengthening our partnership to enhance regional security and stability, create greater economic opportunity, combat corruption and advance human rights to make it safer for people to thrive in their communities,” Pelosi said in a statement.
While in Guatemala, Pelosi will visit a children’s shelter and meet with human rights activists Helen Mack and Alvaro Montenegro, as well as former Vice President Eduardo Stein, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
After Central America, Pelosi and the bipartisan congressional delegation will visit U.S. detention centres in McAllen, Texas, her office said. Democrats have said Trump’s policies have sparked a humanitarian crisis at border facilities.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; writing by Julia Love; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall)