US can soon start sending people seeking asylum to Honduras

FILE - In this Thursday, March 14, 2019, file photo, a Border Patrol agent talks with a group suspected of having entered the U.S. illegally near McAllen, Texas. The Trump administration has quietly shut down the nation's asylum system for the first time in decades amid coronavirus concerns, largely because holding people in custody is considered too dangerous. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, March 14, 2019, file photo, a Border Patrol agent talks with a group suspected of having entered the U.S. illegally near McAllen, Texas. The Trump administration has quietly shut down the nation's asylum system for the first time in decades amid coronavirus concerns, largely because holding people in custody is considered too dangerous. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has finalized an agreement with Honduras that would allow some people seeking asylum in the United States to be sent to the Central American country instead.

The agreement is similar to one with Guatemala and is part of an administration effort to reduce the flow of migrants across the southwest border by making it harder to gain entry to the United States with an asylum claim.

The text of the agreement was released Thursday, a day before it is published in the Federal Register and takes effect.

At the moment, the new agreement would seem to be unnecessary because the U.S. is quickly expelling most people it encounters along the U.S.-Mexico border under an emergency public health order signed by President Donald Trump last month in response to the coronavirus outbreak. That order was renewed for 30 days and is set to expire next month.

Critics say both the new agreement and the earlier one with Guatemala, the subject of a legal challenge, represent a retreat by the U.S. from its obligations under international law to provide a sanctuary to people seeking refuge from persecution.

Neither Honduras nor Guatemala has the capacity to accept and resettle refugees, so people will likely just return eventually to whatever danger they fled in their home countries, said Yael Schacher, senior U.S advocate for Refugees International.

“The U.S. is indirectly sending people back to face persecution," Schacher said.

Under the agreement reached last year, the United States sends asylum-seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala. The program was suspended in March because of the COVID-19 outbreak.