GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A Guatemalan immigration agreement signed with the Trump administration won’t work because the Central American nation does not have the resources, the country’s president-elect says.
Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative who was chosen overwhelmingly by voters in last weekend’s runoff election, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Guatemala is too poor to tend to its own people, let alone those from other countries.
The agreement signed in July by President Jimmy Morales would require immigrants from other countries who cross into Guatemala to apply for asylum here rather than in the United States
“In order to be a safe country, one has to be certified as such by an international body, and I do not think Guatemala fulfills the requirements to be a third safe country. That definition doesn’t fit us,” said Giammattei, a 63-year-old doctor.
“If we do not have the capacity for our own people, just imagine other people.”
Guatemalans make up one of the largest groups emigrating from Central America because of poverty, unemployment, crime and a long history of government violence and corruption. Critics say it is hard to see how the country could offer a safe haven to immigrants from other nations.
The agreement signed by the Morales government is aimed at reducing the number of asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. President Donald Trump’s administration pressured Guatemala to sign the deal by threatening to punish Guatemala with tariffs.
Giammattei, who takes office Jan. 14, 2020, said that annexes to the agreement are still being negotiated with the United States and that he would ask Morales to include members of his transition team in those talks.
The president-elect noted that the agreement would have to be ratified by the congresses of both nations to take effect. There has been widespread criticism of the deal in Guatemala.
Giammattei pledged to recognize the importance of Guatemalan immigrants living in the United States by creating a Washington-based Cabinet-level position to attend to immigrant affairs.
“It is about time we had a government that cared for the people,” he said. “It is these people (emigrants) who are supporting us” with the remittance money they send back to relatives in Guatemala, he added.
“I do not think physical walls, or walls of weapons, can stop migration,” Giammattei said. “I think what can stop migration are walls of opportunities.”
On another matter, the incoming leader distanced himself from Morales’ unpopular decision to not renew the mandate of the U.N.-sponsored anticorruption commission that has played a key role in sending high-ranking politicians, including ex-presidents, to jail. But Giammattei also indicated he would not work to bring back the commission, known as CICIG.
“The mandate has been terminated; the United Nations accepted that,” he said.
He said he has no legal capacity or any other authority to ask Morales to renew the commission. “The CICIG is disappearing and history will judge whether Morales’ decision was right or not,” he said.