Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan signed a "cooperative asylum agreement" with El Savadorian Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill to work toward making the Central America country a haven for migrants seeking asylum in the United States, according to a senior administration official.
At the signing of the agreement in Washington, D.C., Friday, McAleenan told reporters that the agreement is meant to build off a recent, similar deal with Guatemala to "try to further our efforts to provide opportunities to seek protection for political, racial, religious or social group persecution as close as possible to the origin of individuals that need it."
A story in the Washington Post explained that McAleenan traveled to El Salvador last month to work on details of the agreement. McAleenan said that while "one potential use" of the deal would be for migrants who pass through the Central American country en route to the U.S. to obtain refuge there, the current focus is on helping to build El Salvador's capacity.
"The core of this agreement is an asylum cooperative agreement" McAleenan told reporters. "The core of it is recognizing El Salvador's development of their own asylum system and a commitment to help them build that capacity."
While the agreement could potentially lead to asylum-seekers taking refuge in El Salvador, it's important to remember that the Central American country has also been one of the largest sources of people apprehended at the southern border of the U.S. amid the ongoing immigration crisis, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
And while the murder rate in the gang-violence-ridden country of 6.5 million people has fallen in recent years, it's still pretty high. A government official announced last month that the murder rate had dropped to about 4.4 killings per day since June, which was down from the rate of nine per day in 2018.
After a viral pic of a Salvadorian father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande River into the United States went viral in July, El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele, who took office in June, said that his country needs to take responsibility for the large numbers of people fleeing northward.
"We can blame any other country but what about our blame?" he asked. "What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States? They fled El Salvador, they fled our country. It is our fault."
At Friday's news event, El Salvadorian foreign affairs minister Alexandra Hill, echoed Bukele's desire and intent to get control of the factors driving country's immigration situation and highlighted cooperation with the U.S. as a way to do so.
"Irregular immigration has been an issue in El Salvador for the last 30-odd years, now we've reached levels where it is extremely, extremely important that both the United States and El Salvador deal with this issue conjointly," Hill told reporters.
"We are working every single day to try to solve this issue of people who — by various reasons, reasons of insecurity or reasons of death threats — are forced to leave our country," Hill added. "President Bukele has been clear in saying that this is El Slavador's responsibility."