Guatemala’s new president takes office on Tuesday under pressure from the Trump administration on immigration and security and must decide his government’s stance quickly on a U.S. asylum agreement he previously opposed, APA reports citing Reuters.
Alejandro Giammattei, 63, ran for top office three times before his victory in an August runoff on a tough-on-crime platform that included returning the death penalty.
“We will bring back the peace this country so dearly needs,” he told reporters on Monday, promising to overhaul the Central American nation’s security forces and restructure ministries.
But at the top of his to-do list will be a decision on whether to roll back or expand an agreement with the United States forged by outgoing President Jimmy Morales that makes Guatemala a buffer zone to reduce U.S. asylum claims.
Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, part of the U.S. delegation headed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for the inauguration, is expected to push Giammattei to expand the agreement to include Mexicans.
Giammattei, who in the past has suggested he would seek to change the Asylum Cooperation Agreement (ACA), appeared to soften his stance on Monday, saying he had not yet seen the deal’s details.
Guatemala is central to U.S. President Donald Trump’s escalating efforts to end illegal immigration and asylum claims from people making their way to the southwestern U.S. border.
Guatemala is one of Latin America’s poorest and unequal nations, with poverty increasing since 2000 despite strong economic growth rates, according to the World Bank. U.S. officials have threatened it with economic consequences if it fails to accept the ACA.
Under the deal, implemented in November, the United States sends Hondurans and El Salvadorans seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border to Guatemala to ask for refuge there instead.
As of Friday, 128 Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers had been sent as part of the agreement, according to the Guatemalan Migration Institute. Only a handful have applied for asylum in a country that is itself a major source of U.S. bound migrants. Others have returned home.