State Department Human Rights Reports, Part II: Undermining Trump’s Refugee Policies**

One of the more surprising aspects of this year’s country human rights reports, released in Washington last Wednesday, is that the State Department’s own findings undermine the Trump Administration’s legal efforts to limit refugee protections here in the United States — especially the safe third country agreements that the United States negotiated last year with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Those agreements allow the United States to expel asylum seekers to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Yet the human rights reports make abundantly clear that it is manifestly unsafe for LGBTI individuals to seek asylum in that region.

By its own admission, Guatemalan authorities cannot protect asylum seekers.  And the State Department’s report on Guatemala notes that “UNHCR [the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] reported that identification and referral mechanisms for potential asylum seekers were inadequate.  Migration authorities lacked adequate training concerning the rules for establishing refugee status.”

In reality, the situation facing LGBTI asylum seekers in Guatemala is far worse than even the report describes.  The State Department’s report admits that “According to LGBTI activists, gay and transgender individuals often experienced police abuse. The local NGO National Network for Sexual Diversity and HIV and the Lambda Association reported that as of October, a total of 20 LGBTI persons had been killed, including several transgender individuals the NGOs believed were targeted due to their sexual orientation. Several were killed in their homes or at LGBTI spaces in Guatemala City. LGBTI groups claimed women experienced specific forms of discrimination, such as forced marriages and forced pregnancies through ‘corrective rape,’ although these incidents were rarely, if ever, reported to authorities. In addition, transgender individuals faced severe discrimination.”

So why is it that the United States is now arguing in court that LGBTI asylum seekers are safe in Guatemala?

Last January, a group of civil rights and refugee organizations brought suit against the United States based on the safe third country agreement with Guatemala.  The suit represents the claims of a group of refugees, including a gay man from El Salvador who sought asylum in the United States but was sent, instead, to Guatemala by U.S. officials to pursue his asylum claim there, despite his strong objections and the country’s horrific record of human rights abuses against LGBTI individuals.

In the lawsuit, the refugee groups argue that: “Because of the Rule, vulnerable asylum seekers are shut out of the United States and left to seek protection in countries with barely functioning asylum systems that cannot adequately protect them. . . . The result is a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves many desperate asylum seekers without a safe haven, in violation of U.S. and international law.” Indeed, after being sent to Guatemala, local officials told the Salvadoran man in this case that they could not protect him — and advised him to flee to Mexico. (See more here.)

Safe indeed.  As the Department’s own human rights reports make clear, the so-called safe third country agreements that the United States is implementing with Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are nothing but a farce, especially for LGBTI asylum seekers.

When asked about this hypocrisy at the reports’ rollout, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Robert Destro stammered and hedged: “I don’t think there is any inconsistency whatsoever.”  Shame – the inconsistency is obvious.  It’s also deadly.

** This is part two of a three-part series of blogs analyzing the State Department’s annual human rights reports, which were released with little fanfare last week. While it is a difficult time to be sharing anything that is unrelated to coronavirus, we believe that the strength and accuracy of these reports is vital to a robust human rights policy and to our country’s leadership in the world. Read part one here.

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