The Biden administration formally terminated three key Trump-era migration agreements amid an ongoing crisis at the southern border when numbers of migrants crossing the border were at their highest.
The Trump-era agreements were signed with the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in 2019 as part of the Trump administration’s border strategy. The agreements allowed the U.S. to send migrants to those countries to claim asylum if they passed through them on the way to the U.S.
The State Department announced its decision to cancel the agreements, called Asylum Cooperative Agreements, in February last year, suspending them immediately.
"The Biden administration believes there are more suitable ways to work with our partner governments to manage migration across the region," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "The United States will build on our strong relationships and support these governments’ efforts to address forced displacement without placing undue burden on them, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic."
Blinken noted that the agreements had either not fully gone into effect or had been suspended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Blinken made it clear they would not be restored.
The suspension only put the agreements on hold, and they were not officially terminated until months later. The State Department told Rep. Matt Rosendale’s, R-Mont., office that the agreements were not actually terminated until the end of the notice periods written into the agreements — May 4 for the Guatemala agreement, August 4 for the agreement with El Savador and August 5 for the agreement with Honduras.
In May, the number of migrant encounters at the border had spiked to over 180,000, and, by August, that number was more than 209,000 after it reached a high of 213,593 in July, with border agents repeatedly warning that they were overwhelmed by the crisis.
In a statement to Fox News, Rep. Rosendale said it is "shameful that the Biden Administration would terminate these agreements this summer, when the border crisis was at its peak, without even telling the American people."
"The Biden Administration’s systematic dismantling of successful Trump-era border policies has created the worst border crisis in American history," he said. "To get operational control of the border, as the American people deserve – and the law demands – it is critical that our nation return to proven Trump-era immigration policies, and reimplement these highly effective Safe Third Country Agreements."
Former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox the fact that the administration went through with the terminations showed the administration’s "incompetence."
"It’s one thing to cancel those in January or February when you’re not really sure the consequences of doing so, but to continue the process to cancel them when you understand that the consequences of some of the actions you’ve taken is creating the worst border crisis we've ever experienced as a country, and to continue to go through that shows you that they're not serious about solving the border crisis or they're completely incompetent," he said.
Wolf said the agreements themselves were designed to address the enormous amount of fraud in the U.S. asylum system.
"What those agreements were designed to do was to allow individuals in Central America to seek asylum, seek protection as close to their home country as possible, which is an international norm," he said. "Anywhere else in the world you try to resettle refugees, and you try to resettle asylum seekers as close to their home countries in safe areas as possible so when conditions improve they can go back to their home country and begin their life."
"It was also designed to say if you were from, say, Honduras, and you decide to travel through Guatemala and Mexico and don’t seek asylum there, and for some reason you went to the United States to seek asylum, it allows the United States to say, 'No that's not right, you need to go back and seek asylum in a place like Guatemala where there are places in that country that are very safe.'"
It is one of a number of Trump-era immigration policies that the Biden administration has reversed, including border wall construction and the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which saw the return of migrants to Mexico rather than their release into the U.S. The Biden administration has since been forced to restore that policy due to a court order, although it is seeking to end it via different means.
Wolf said that the ACAs were designed not to work on their own, but to work as part of a broader strategy that included MPP and other Trump-era initiative in order to allow the government a number of pathways on which to put illegal immigrants.
"So when you close down those pathways like the Biden administration did, they are essentially tying their hands what they can do with these folks and some would say — and I would argue — that's done by design because the only option they really want to do at the end of the day is to release them into the United States," he said.