US eyes migration deals with rest of Central America after Guatemala's

US acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan (L) shakes hands with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales at the Culture Palace in Guatemala City on August 1, 2019 (AFP Photo/STR)

Guatemala City (AFP) - The United States will seek migration deals with El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, akin to last week's with Guatemala, to curb emigration from Central America, a senior US official said Thursday.

"We do see this as a regional responsibility," acting US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said on a visit to Guatemala City, to follow up on the bilateral deal.

And "we are now seeking discussions with Honduras and El Salvador ... ( US President Donald Trump) last week invited for a ministerial the governments of Costa Rica and Panama as well, because we do see this as a regional effort, and a regional responsibility."

McAleenan stressed that coordination among the countries on the isthmus was key because 50 percent of those arriving at US borders without visas had crossed Guatemala, then Mexico en route to the US border.

On Friday Guatemala signed an agreement in Washington that, according to the White House, makes it a "safe third country."

Under it, migrants who want to seek asylum in the United States but travel through Guatemala must request asylum in the Central American country.

McAleenan said the agreement was about more than just asylum, with the deal allowing Guatemalans to apply for US agricultural worker visas.

"This is more than just an asylum compact. Again this is in the context of working on this together in the region but it also includes ... increased access to lawful employment in the United States. We want Guatemalan farmworkers to come to the US and work in our economy," he said.

Meanwhile, Guatemala's Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart told reporters that he expects the country's highest court of justice, the Constitutional Court (CC), will be flooded with suits challenging the US agreement.

Many international observers have said that Guatemala, with 60 percent poverty, is in no shape to welcome refugees but simply signed the deal under intense US pressure.

Degenhart insisted there had been no pressure, though Trump had threatened to tax imports and remittances if Guatemala did not comply.