June 25, 2019 / 7:15 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. to deploy up to 89 DHS agents to Guatemala: document

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will deploy up to 89 agents to Guatemala by the end of August under a joint agreement to curb illegal immigration and strengthen border security, according to an official document seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

The agreement, dated May 27, was signed by Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Guatemalan Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart.

The document did not reference the possibility that Guatemala would act as a “third safe country” for U.S.-bound migrants seeking asylum. U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that Guatemala was preparing to sign such an agreement.

According to the document, DHS would deploy up to 65 agents from Customs and Border Protection, and up to 24 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“The participants intend to share information, best practices and experiences,” said the joint agreement.

In response to a request for comment by Reuters, a DHS spokesperson cited a press call earlier this month in which a department official said it was too early to say how many agents would be deployed, but estimated “between dozens and 100.”

The official said DHS agents would act as “advisers” with “no law enforcement authority” and that the memorandum would allow the United States to bring more experts to its collaboration with Guatemalan authorities.

Degenhart later told reporters that Guatemala was in discussions with the United States on curbing migration, but had not accepted the third safe country proposal.

Neighboring 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.

Earlier this month Mexico agreed to enforce tighter migration controls, including sending militarized police to its borders, averting for now U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on imports from Mexico.

Mexico has also called on Guatemala to step up its responsibility for slowing migration in the region.

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; writing by Daina Beth Solomon; additional reporting by Rebekah Ward; editing by Julia Love and Richard Chang

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