Outgoing Guatemala leader denies agreeing to take Mexican migrants from U.S

FILE PHOTO: Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Wednesday his administration had not agreed to accept deported Mexican asylum-seekers under a deal with the United States, despite U.S. guidance to asylum officers to do so.

Morales told reporters it was “completely untrue that we agreed a deal for Mexicans to come.” He said a safe third country-style deal with the United States implemented at the end of last year only covered Hondurans and Salvadorans.

“The United States has talked about the possibility of including Mexican nationals, but that will have to be discussed with the next government,” Morales said.

Morale’s term ends on Jan. 14.

The Trump administration has pressured Central American countries to take in asylum seekers under a series of agreements aimed at limiting immigration into the United States. Critics say Guatemala is unable to offer protection to vulnerable migrants, given its weak state, high poverty and violence.

In a Jan. 4 email, field office staff at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were told Mexican nationals will now be included in the populations “amenable” to the agreement with Guatemala, according to guidance documents seen by Reuters.

Morales has in the past been evasive when asked about immigration agreements struck with the United States.

Reporting by Jeff Abbott; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Richard Chang