FILE PHOTO: Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales gestures after a meeting with acting Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, unseen in Guatemala City, Guatemala May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales will travel to Washington next week following weeks of intense negotiations aimed at declaring the Central American country a safe destination for asylum seekers.
Presidential spokesman Alfredo Brito said on Thursday Morales would travel on Monday, but said he did not yet know the purpose of the trip.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on June 26 that the United States and Guatemala were close to reaching a safe third country agreement as part of efforts to curb U.S.-bound migration from Central America.
Under such an agreement, Guatemala would be obliged to process asylum claims from migrants who entered its territory en route to the United States, including migrants from neighboring Honduras and El Salvador.
The apprehension by U.S. authorities of Central American migrants, including large numbers of families and asylum seekers, reached a more than decade high in May. Trump has applied increasing pressure on Mexico and Central America to stem the flows.
Earlier last month, Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, who has been leading negotiations with the United States, said the asylum policy was still being discussed. Declaring Guatemala a safe third country would require changes to its immigration laws.
Degenhart also declined to comment on the purpose of Morales’ visit to Washington. Guatemala’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra said she did not have any information.
Cracking down on immigration has been a long-standing priority for Trump. In June, he moved to cut U.S. aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras over migration, but added that Guatemala “is much different than it was under past administrations.”
Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Sonya Hepinstall