SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — U.S. and Salvadoran officials signed a letter of intent Wednesday to strengthen cooperation on security and migration during a visit by the acting U.S. homeland security secretary to the Central American nation.
Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the deal focuses on improving policing and security in El Salvador and does not amount to a “safe third country” agreement, under which asylum seekers who cross through El Salvador would have to apply for refuge here instead of the United States.
“This is a letter of intent to collaborate on a broad basis on law enforcement and countering gangs, increasing border security, information sharing and economic vitality, as well as supporting the Salvadorans’ own initiative on developing asylum and protection capacity,” McAleenan said at a news conference after meeting with President Nayib Bukele and Salvadoran Cabinet officials.
Bukele, who took office June 1, said the agreement covers the implementation of border patrols, which he said his country has been doing for several weeks.
“They have been successful because we have arrested people-traffickers, smugglers and gang members who want to cross the frontier,” he said.
The countries also agreed to share information on drug trafficking and other crimes.
The Trump administration has been pressuring Central American nations and Mexico to stem the flow of migrants and asylum seekers toward the U.S. border.
McAleenan said the number of Salvadorans crossing the United States’ southwest border was 6,000 so far in August, down from 16,000 in May.
Migrants’ rights advocates in El Salvador have criticized the talks as lacking transparency.
McAleenan’s visit was the third by high-level U.S. officials to El Salvador in a little over a month. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came July 21 and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited in early August.