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Guatemala official seeks to nullify asylum deal with US

July 29, 2019
Demonstrators demand the resignation of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, one wearing a T-shirt of Morales as a clown, outside the Presidential House in Guatemala City, Saturday, July 27, 2019. Demonstrators are protesting an agreement their government signed with Washington to require migrants passing through the Central American country to seek asylum there, rather than pushing on to the U.S. Before becoming president, Morales was a professional comedian. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)
Demonstrators demand the resignation of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, one wearing a T-shirt of Morales as a clown, outside the Presidential House in Guatemala City, Saturday, July 27, 2019. Demonstrators are protesting an agreement their government signed with Washington to require migrants passing through the Central American country to seek asylum there, rather than pushing on to the U.S. Before becoming president, Morales was a professional comedian. (AP Photo/ Oliver de Ros)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Human rights prosecutor Jordán Rodas asked the Constitutional Court on Monday to nullify a deal President Jimmy Morales’ government signed with Washington forcing Salvadorans and Hondurans to request asylum in Guatemala instead of the United States.

The appeal argues that the agreement was signed under threats from U.S. President Donald Trump, who’d warned of possible tariffs or other consequences for Guatemala if it didn’t get on board.

“We presented an appeal for what was signed to be declared null and not take effect,” Rodas said. “Article 52 of the Vienna Convention signals that any treaty or agreement ... that has been obtained under threats is null.”

Rodas also asked for the removal and investigation of Foreign Minister Enrique Degenhart, who signed the document in Washington last week, arguing that he did not have the authority to do so.

Prior to the signing, the Constitutional Court had granted three injunctions ordering the government not to enter into a deal without approval from the country’s Congress — a ruling it ignored.

Presidential spokesman Alfredo Brito said Morales’ legal team was studying whether the agreement needs to be considered by Congress and added that the administration provided all required information to the court.

The agreement with Washington provides that Salvadorans and Hondurans who pass through Guatemala and arrive at the U.S. border would not be allowed to make asylum claims there unless they did so in Guatemala first.

The measure could potentially ease the crush of mostly Central Americans arriving at the U.S. border, as it’s impossible to travel north overland from El Salvador and Honduras without passing through Guatemala.

But Guatemala is a sending country for migration and home to the same push factors driving people to flee Honduras and El Salvador: poverty, gang violence, joblessness and a prolonged drought that has devastated farmers. It has scant resources to provide housing, education and opportunity for potential asylum-seekers, and homicide rates are only marginally better than in the other two countries.

The Citizens’ Action civil organization and lawyer Marco Antonio Mejia also filed appeals.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in front of Guatemala’s presidential palace over the weekend to call for Morales’ resignation, charging that he had caved in to U.S. demands.

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