It’s Not Just the Ukraine

Above: Newly elected President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele Image Credit: Associated Press/ AP/


On Sunday, December 15, 2019, the CBS program Sixty Minutes interviewed the newly elected President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele.  The subject of the interview was primarily immigration.  Recall that Trump created a policy that required refugees to wait outside the U.S. to apply for asylum even though our treaty obligations say we can’t do this.  To accomplish his policy, Trump twisted the arms of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and HondurasMexico was threatened with tariffs even though Mexico had recently completed negotiations on a new free trade agreement.  As the interview with President Bukele revealed, Trump’s leverage with El Salvador was withholding $51 million in foreign aid which had already been appropriated by Congress.  Trump withheld the money and conditioned its release upon El Salvador signing an agreement that said it would hold asylum seekers and process them there.



The CBS interviewer asked recently elected President Bukele about safety conditions in El Salvador and whether El Salvador was actually capable of holding and processing asylum seekers there.  The Salvadoran President was refreshingly honest.  He said conditions in El Salvador were dangerous and that his country did not have the asylum infrastructure to do what it had agreed to do.  He went on to say that the only way to keep people in their home countries, including his, was to improve conditions there because nobody truly wants to leave home.  To cap it all off, after El Salvador signed the deal and to make it less subject to public criticism, our State Department changed its traveler warning for El Salvador from one of the most dangerous countries in the world to one of the least dangerous.  El Salvador is now magically as safe as France and Sweden.  I’m sure refugees and tourists now feel safe and secure. 



On December 17, 2019, it was revealed in the national media that the U.S. and Honduras signed an agreement in New York on September 25 which will allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers who are not from Honduras to Honduras for processing without first allowing them the opportunity to seek asylum in the U.S.  Honduras is, of course, just as dangerous as El Salvador and just as ill-prepared and incapable as El Salvador to do what it has, on paper, agreed to do.  The end result will be that all asylum seekers sent there will be denied asylum in Honduras and then deported to who knows where never having had a legitimate chance to make their asylum claim.  Can you imagine the plight of these refugees who struggled to get here and now find themselves in Honduras, a place they never intended to go and where they likely know not a soul?



Maybe Trump’s immigration policy should be called “banishment”.  Webster’s says banishment is to require by authority to leave a country; to drive out or remove from a home or place of usual resort; to clear away; and, that to banish implies compulsory removal from a country not necessarily one’s own.  Banishment is a good description of Trump’s policy.  It will be hard to find a catchy way to incorporate “banish” into the title of a law Trump can boast about in a campaign rally, but I feel pretty sure the more harsh he can make it sound the better it will be received.  Who knows, maybe The Banishment Act of 2019 is good enough.


 In 1968, the U.S. ratified an international treaty agreeing that it would “not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened…enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”  I’m definitely no authority on international law, but Trump’s policy of arresting refugees when they surrender at any location other than a border crossing, and then deporting them seems to violate this treaty notwithstanding the new agreements with Mexico and Central American countries.  Of course, there is no meaningful penalty for Trump breaching our treaty obligations other than surrender of the moral high ground, loss of our reputation in the international community as a reliable, trustworthy nation that keeps its treaty obligations and loss of our reputation among the people of the world as a defender of human rights, but all that is pretty much gone anyway and, besides, Trump doesn’t care.