U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a congressional delegation to Central America on Thursday as the Trump administration presses countries there to stop U.S.-bound asylum seekers before they reach the U.S. border.
Pelosi, a Democrat, began in Guatemala, which late last month under threat of economic sanctions struck a deal with Republican President Donald Trump to become a so-called “safe third country.” That will require migrants to seek refuge in Guatemala rather than in the United States.
But critics question whether Guatemala has the resources to handle the potential surge in asylum applications, and the country faces its own instability.
U.S. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said this month that the United States wants similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador, where Pelosi will also visit.
Immigration, one of Trump’s signature issues in the 2016 presidential campaign, is already shaping up as a central issue in the November 2020 election. Democrats have sharply criticized Trump’s policies aimed at banning nearly all asylum-seekers from entry, warehousing detainees in crowded quarters and holding children separately from the adults they traveled with.
Pelosi’s office said in a statement that in Guatemala she will meet with representatives from government, the judiciary and rights groups during her trip.
“We look forward to strengthening our partnership to enhance regional security and stability, create greater economic opportunity, combat corruption and advance human rights to make it safer for people to thrive in their communities,” Pelosi said in a statement.
While in Guatemala, Pelosi will visit a children’s shelter and meet with human rights activists Helen Mack and Alvaro Montenegro, as well as former Vice President Eduardo Stein, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
After the visit to Central America, Pelosi and the bipartisan congressional delegation will visit of U.S. detention centers in McAllen, Texas, the speaker’s office said. Democrats have said Trump’s policies have sparked a humanitarian crisis at border facilities.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; additional reporting by Doina Chiacu; writing by Julia Love; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)