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DHS Signs Deal To Send Asylum-Seekers From U.S. Border To Honduras

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's catch up now on a story that got buried in the avalanche of impeachment news these last few days. The story is Honduras, one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America, and an announcement of a deal that would allow U.S. immigration officials to send asylum seekers from the U.S. border to Honduras. This is a so-called asylum cooperation agreement. The Department of Homeland Security signed a similar deal with El Salvador two weeks ago. They signed another one in July with Guatemala. Joining us to talk about the Honduran deal is Clara Long of Human Rights Watch. Welcome.

CLARA LONG: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So I know there are a lot of details still to be figured out here, but in principle, how is this supposed to work? Why does the Trump administration say this is a good idea?

LONG: Well, in principle, this deal would allow the Trump administration to take asylum seekers from the U.S. border and then ship them to Honduras and, from a prior agreement, to El Salvador as well as Guatemala. So that would basically allow the administration, instead of processing these people and providing them a chance to claim protection in the United States, a way to send them away almost immediately.

KELLY: And just to make sure I understand, this would not apply necessarily just to Hondurans. It wouldn't apply - you wouldn't have had to have transited through Honduras. You could show up at the border, claim asylum or ask for asylum and then you would be shipped to Honduras.

LONG: Right. In theory, this wouldn't apply to Hondurans because that would be returning someone to the country from which they fled, but it could apply to people who had either transited Honduras on their way to the U.S. or even people who had not transited Honduras but who would be returned there anyway.

KELLY: So we're talking people - I don't know - coming from Venezuela, from Nicaragua, from Cuba, from other places.

LONG: Right, but you also have a flow of people who are coming from places outside of the, you know, American continent - people from Bangladesh, India, West Africa or East Africa.

KELLY: So they would have reached the U.S. border, and then they would be sent to Honduras, which prompts me to ask, is Honduras a safe place to send these people?

LONG: Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. You have hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing Honduras because of gang violence. You see these waves of mass migration.

KELLY: Right. I was just checking the numbers, and I saw something like a quarter of a million. More than 250,000 Hondurans crossed the U.S. border just in the last 11 months, suggesting they don't seem to think Honduras is safe.

LONG: No, and you know, the thing about these agreements is that they don't change the underlying conditions in any place that people flee. They just make the harshness of the reception and the potential consequences that much more severe. What the Trump administration is building with these agreements is basically an externalized wall in which it will attempt to keep asylum seekers as far away from the U.S. border as possible.

KELLY: What is in this for Honduras? Why have they agreed to this?

LONG: You know, there is an enormous amount of U.S. power here when it comes to economics. These countries own interests with respect to their nationals in the United States. One of the things I found really notable about the announcement of the El Salvador agreement was that the representative from El Salvador spent the whole time in the press conference talking about El Salvadorans who have temporary protected status in United States and the importance of providing them a way forward in terms of legal status. So they have other sort of chips on the table, including the outcome for their nationals who are already living here, that they're also thinking about.

KELLY: And to circle us back to this latest news, the deal with Honduras, I was noting that in terms of what's going on domestically there - the U.S. prosecutors have just named the president Juan Orlando Hernandez as a coconspirator in this big American drug trafficking case.

LONG: Right. I mean...

KELLY: Do we know if that came up during these negotiations, if the Trump administration took that into account?

LONG: We don't know, or at least I don't know. I haven't seen that reported anywhere, and - but what I did see reported was acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary McAleenan calling Juan Orlando Hernandez a great partner and really praising his action, which seems pretty deaf to the reality of pretty serious allegations.

KELLY: Clara Long, thanks very much.

LONG: Thank you.

KELLY: She is a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.