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Guatemala avoids Trump threat of sanctions with new migration deal

The Trump administration has grappled with a surge of mainly Central American migrants claiming asylum at the United States’ southern border with Mexico, an influx that has made it difficult for Trump to restrict immigration as he promised when he was elected.

Trump had wanted Guatemala to sign what is known as a safe third country agreement to require asylum seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on the way to the United States.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that such a deal could not be signed without prior approval from the country’s Congress, which is on a summer recess.

Trump told reporters on Friday that Guatemala had signed a safe third country agreement, but the Guatemalan government did not use that term. It said that the new measures applied only to Honduran and Salvadoran citizens.

“They’re doing what we’ve asked them to do,” Trump told reporters at the White House, calling Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales a “terrific guy.”

“We have other great countries who are going to be signing on also,” he said, without providing further details.

Trump threatened to impose tariffs, ban travelers and hit remittances with fees when the agreement fell through last week.

Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told reporters at the White House the pact would protect “asylum seekers at the earliest possible point in their journey.”

“If you have a Honduran family or an El Salvadoran national, instead of them having to pay a smuggler, come all the way to our border to seek asylum, when they arrive in Guatemala they’re in a country that has a fair proceeding for assessing asylum claims and that’s where they should make that claim,” McAleenan said.

The Guatemalan government said in a statement that the deal would allow its citizens to apply for temporary visas to work in the U.S. agricultural sector, and in the medium- to long-term, would allow for work visas for the construction and service sectors.

Morales said on Facebook that the agreement had headed off the threat of “drastic sanctions” against Guatemala.

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