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Trump Says He Reached Deal With Guatemala To Stem Flow Of Migrants To The U.S.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump says he has cut a deal with Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's going to be a great thing for Guatemala. They don't want these problems either, so we were able to get this done. And we got it done fairly quickly.

KELLY: The agreement was signed in the Oval Office this afternoon. It is a so-called safe third country asylum agreement, and it follows days of threats from the president. There had been talk of imposing a travel ban of tariffs on Guatemalan goods, of taxing money sent home by Guatemalans living in the U.S. NPR's Franco Ordoñez broke the news of the possible travel ban. He's been following all this. He joins me now.

Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So what happened this afternoon?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, President Trump just announced here at the White House that the administration had signed an asylum agreement. You know, it really was a big agreement that would force migrants traveling through Guatemala to seek asylum out of the United States. It applies to Salvadorans as well and Hondurans. It's a key component of Trump's strategy for reducing migration. And, frankly, it's quite a turn of events considering that just earlier this month, the Guatemalan high court had said you can't do this kind of agreement. But Trump didn't believe it, and he threatened to take action against them.

KELLY: And was it those threats that prompted Guatemala to agree to this, which they, as you suggested, had been resisting?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it certainly seems like it had an impact, you know? This is - they were certainly scared of the consequences. It's a small - it's a poor country that depends on the United States. The local business community particularly was very scared of the tariffs and was pushing the president of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, to do what President Trump was seeking. You know, we - as you mentioned, we also reported on the travel ban that was directed at Guatemalan nationals who come to the United States legally. Those are the business peaceable (ph) themselves.

KELLY: But to the point you made a moment ago, Franco, that Guatemala's high court had ruled the president can't do this, at least not unilaterally - I mean, can this agreement even come into force? Will it be legal in Guatemala?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, I think that's the big question. I mean, we still need to be a little bit cautious here. The high court did say the president can't do this unilaterally - that's the Guatemalan president can't do this unilaterally - and authorize an international treaty. Such pacts are supposed to be ratified by the Guatemalan Congress, so this deal may not quite be done yet. It'll have to go back to Congress.

KELLY: All right. And this would seem to be, in terms of how the president has approached this, straight from the Donald Trump playbook of how he prefers to negotiate with foreign governments.

ORDOÑEZ: It really does. I mean, just this morning, former - I was - I - you know, I heard from some former ambassadors who were in touch criticizing Trump for giving up on diplomacy in favor of bullying. But his supporters - Trump supporters, that is - you know, are crediting his hard-nosed negotiating style with getting results. You know, it was just a couple of months ago that he did this with Mexico. He threatened to impose big tariffs that would start at 5% and then go up to 25% if Mexico didn't stop the flow of migrants. They acted. And Trump, at the last minute, pulled back his threats. Now Guatemala, you know, actually acted sooner. But as we mentioned, there's still a few things that really need to be unravelled in Guatemala.

KELLY: And just to situate this in the broader context, the goal here for President Trump is reducing the flow of migrants at the border, cutting down on immigration.

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely. I mean, that's the goal. They want to reduce - you know, they want to reduce migration. And I should also note that - look. This was a small country that Trump can have influence over. They depend on the United States very increasingly. You know, right now Trump is also trying to push Sweden - pressure Sweden to release a U.S. rapper who's in jail on assault charges. There's a big question whether a country - you know, a larger country, a wealthier country that doesn't rely on the United States in the same way will act in the same way. You know, they're less likely to succeed.

KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez reporting there on the deal signed this afternoon in the Oval Office between the U.S. and Guatemala.

Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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