Bukele defends Salvador on migration, crime, raps neighbors

MARCOS ALEMÁN
FILE- In this Feb. 3, 2019 file photo, newly-elected president of El Salvador Nayib Bukele addresses his supporters, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Bukele on Monday, July 15, 2019, called on Washington not to lump his country in with Honduras and Guatemala, the other two nations that make up Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle. He said his country is trying to reduce irregular migration and fight crime and drug trafficking, and deserves to be treated differently than nearby countries. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador's new president said his country is trying to reduce irregular migration and fight crime and drug trafficking, and deserves to be treated differently than nearby countries.

In remarks late Monday, Nayib Bukele called on Washington not to lump his country in with Honduras and Guatemala, the other two nations that make up Central America's so-called Northern Triangle.

Honduras and Guatemala "have not been an example, to put it one way, and sometimes a region is punished for actions by governments in which we have no involvement," Bukele said.

"I think it is a bit unfair," the president continued, saying his country interdicts three-quarters of drug shipments through its land and sea territory. "I believe that here in El Salvador crime is fought head-on, we fight drug trafficking head-on."

U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed frustration over a wave of mostly Central American migrants and asylum seekers arriving at the U.S. border this year, fleeing poverty and violence in their home countries.

On Monday his administration said it would end asylum protections for most of those people, deeming them ineligible if they do not apply for refuge in a transit country first.

The move stands to reverse decades of U.S. policy on asylum and greatly reduce the number of people able to make claims in the country, though it faces certain legal challenges.

Bukele noted that Hondurans and Guatemalans have greatly outnumbered Salvadorans arriving at the U.S. border.

"It is clear that while the issue of migration is a very serious one ... the great majority of emigrations are not being created by El Salvador but by Honduras and Guatemala," Bukele said.

He announced that officials are working to advocate for Salvadoran migrants detained at the U.S. border and those already in the United States, and said in the coming days his government will launch several programs that aim to improve life conditions in El Salvador and ultimate reduce emigration.

Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco was in Washington to meet with U.S. officials and also lobby for an extension to Temporary Protected Status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans and their children living in the United States.

The program allows people from certain countries to live and work legally in the United States following disruptive events such as natural disasters or armed conflict. Washington has ended TPS protections for Salvadorans and people from several other countries in recent years.