(CN) – After multiple legal setbacks to White House plans to cut off asylum to migrants, the Trump administration announced a deal Friday that will require migrants to seek protection in Guatemala before they can apply for refugee status in the United States.
The announcement of a “safe third country agreement” with Guatemala comes two days after a federal judge temporarily blocked a new rule that would make those reaching the U.S.-Mexico border ineligible for asylum unless they sought protection in a country they passed along the way.
Guatemalan interior minister Enrique Degenhart signed the agreement in the Oval Office on Friday.
President Donald Trump called it “a very important” signing and a “terrific” deal for Guatemala and the United States.
It followed threats by the president to impose tariffs and a travel ban on the Central American nation if it did not take action to help the White House curb the stream of migrants traveling to the U.S. southern border.
Advocates for refugees denounced the deal in a statement Friday, arguing Guatemala is not a safe country for people fleeing violence and persecution.
“Guatemala is in no way safe for refugees and asylum seekers, and all the strong-arming in the world won’t make it so,” Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said in a statement Friday.
Schwartz said the agreement violates U.S. law and that it would “put some of the most vulnerable people in Central America in grave danger.”
The agreement follows a panoply of White House immigration policies aimed at stemming the flow of migrants journeying to the United States to seek protection from persecution and better economic prospects. Last year, Trump sought to limit asylum to those who enter the U.S. at official ports of entry. The Ninth Circuit upheld a court order temporarily blocking that policy.
Earlier this year, the White House introduced a policy that requires asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their applications are pending. The Ninth Circuit revived that policy pending appeal.
Border agents apprehended 524,466 non-Mexican border crossers in the first eight months of fiscal year 2019, almost twice the number apprehended in the prior two years combined, according to Department of Homeland Security data.