SAN DIEGO — One of President Donald Trump’s top priorities on immigration if he wins a second term would be to use agreements with Central American governments as models to get countries around the world to field asylum claims from people seeking refuge in the United States, a top adviser said Friday.
Stephen Miller, a key architect of Trump’s immigration policies, said the agreements would help stop “asylum fraud, asylum shopping and asylum abuse on a global scale.”
Miller, in an interview with The Associated Press, also forecast a broader offensive against so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, saying the administration would use its “full power, resources and authority.” He vowed more efforts toward legal immigration “based on merit.”
The “Asylum Cooperative Agreements” that the administration struck in 2019 have allowed for asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to be flown to Guatemala for an opportunity to seek asylum, denying them a chance to apply in the U.S.
From November to March, when the coronavirus pandemic halted flights to Guatemala, only 20 of 939 Hondurans and El Salvadorans flown there sought asylum. Nearly all went home in what became known as “deportation with a layover.”
Like many of Trump’s policies that have dramatically transformed the U.S. immigration system, the bilateral agreements are being challenged in court. Critics note asylum-seekers are sent to countries with high levels of violence and poverty and little infrastructure to handle asylum claims.
The coronavirus struck before flights began to Honduras and El Salvador, putting those launches on hold.
Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden have given scant attention to immigration in their 2020 campaigns, despite a spirited exchange during Thursday’s debate that was prompted by news that court-appointed lawyers have been unable to find parents of 545 children who were separated from their families early in the Trump administration.