The United States and El Salvador signed a "cooperative asylum agreement" Friday in what is seen as another attempt by the Trump administration to curb the flow of migrants from Central America coming into the U.S.
Few details about how the agreement will work or when it will go into effect were provided, but acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the pact "is one significant step forward" and that it will build on what the U.S. has "accomplished already" with El Salvador's neighbor Guatemala, which is trying to implement a "safe third country" agreement with the U.S. signed earlier this summer. El Salvador's Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco told The Associated Press that the agreement could similarly lead to migrants from third countries obtaining refuge in El Salvador if they pass through on their way to the U.S., although most northern migration routes don't include the country.
Criticism was swift, with opponents arguing that El Salvador is not safe enough to serve as a refuge. "If this agreement goes into effect, the U.S. will be forcing the most vulnerable communities to seek safety in a country that is not equipped to protect its own citizens or provide economic opportunity," said Oscar Chacon, the executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led organizations. Read more at NPR and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell
The increase in immigration at the southern border has prompted the Trump administration to make budget cuts — and the White House is opting to slash English classes, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying federal shelters across the country to avoid running out of money by the end of June, The Washington Post reports.
Although education and recreation for minors in custody are mandated by a federal court settlement and state licensing requirements, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun to discontinue funding for services that are "not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety." Carlos Holguin, a lawyer representing minors, said he is prepared to battle the government in the court room to prevent the cuts from going through.
"What's next?," he asked. "Drinking water? Food?"
A shelter employee speaking on condition of anonymity told the Post that the cuts have alarmed workers, who fear the care for the children will suffer. The employee pondered over what the minors will do without those services.
In an attempt to relieve overcrowding at border facilities in Texas, hundreds of migrant families, mostly from Central America, detained while trying to cross the southern border will be flown to San Diego where they will be interviewed, finger printed, and photographed before being turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"We're in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and the numbers in Texas are staggering so the BP is helping out in those sectors to more efficiently process those folks," an unnamed CPB official said, referring to the Border Patrol.
The first official flight arrived on Friday and three flights carrying between 120 and 135 people will take off weekly, Customs and Border Protection Interim Chief Patrol Agent Douglas Harrison said on Friday. The families will be medically screened before departure to ensure they are fit for travel. There are not expected to be any unaccompanied minors on the flights.
The announcement comes as two Department of Homeland Security Officials said the DHS is planning to transport recent border crossers to cities around the country before releasing them after processing. It is not clear if the San Diego flights are part of that plan, NBC News reports. Tim O'Donnell