White House Claims Safe Third Country Agreements 'Will Save Thousands of Lives,' Slams ACLU Over 'Frivolous' Lawsuit

The White House has dismissed claims from the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) that it is putting asylum seekers' lives in danger by forcing them to return to the region they fled under its "safe third country" agreements with Central American nations.

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit with the National Immigrant Justice Center, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies and Human Rights First, accusing the Trump administration of forcing asylum seekers into a "deadly game of musical chairs" with the safe third country deals.

Under the agreements, the U.S. has already been able to return asylum seekers who transited through Guatemala to get to the border back to the Central American country under the premise that it is a safe place for asylum seekers to make their claims.

With deals also signed with Honduras and El Salvador, the Trump administration is also expected to start sending asylum seekers to the other two Northern Triangle countries as well.

While rights groups have claimed that the the Trump administration is endangering the lives of asylum seekers, a White House spokesperson claimed that the safe third country agreements will actually "save" lives.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley defended the government's Asylum Cooperation Agreements, accusing the ACLU of launching a "frivolous and dangerous lawsuit."

"This frivolous and dangerous lawsuit is yet another brazen attempt by the ACLU to forum shop for an unelected judge to impose their own views in place of the actual text of the laws passed by Congress," Gidley said, noting that this is not the first time the ACLU has sued the Trump administration over its immigration policies.

"The Asylum Cooperation Agreements reached with Latin American nations are crucial foreign policy agreements that will save thousands of lives and deliver a brighter economic future for the entire region, and constitutes a vital pillar of U.S. national security, border security and foreign affairs," Gidley said.

By asking for a federal court to put an end to the policy, "the ACLU is asking a federal judge, in effect, to strike down a bipartisan statute Congress enacted with wide margins," Gidley said. "The ACLU's position has no basis in law, and will drive children into the hands of ruthless cartels."

The White House spokesperson's statement appeared to suggest that asylum seekers who travel through Mexico to get to the U.S. could be targeted by cartels and others who prey on asylum seekers traveling north to the U.S. border.

Instead, the Trump administration has asserted that Central Americans and others who cross through countries like Guatemala would be better off simply staying there and claiming asylum, instead of making their way north.

Guatemalan police prepare to escort a convicted criminal who arrived on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency deportation flight from Brownsville, Texas on August 29, 2019 to Guatemala City. The Trump administration's "safe third country" deal with Guatemala allows it to send asylum seekers back to the Central American nation if they transited through Guatemala to get to the U.S. border. John Moore/Getty

Launching the lawsuit, Katrina Eiland, an attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, had insisted that is not the reality, with the attorney accusing the Trump administration of forcing asylum seekers into "a deadly game of musical chairs that leaves desperate refugees without a safe haven."

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the ACLU has insisted, are not equipped to handle an influx of asylum seekers. Further, the organization said, the U.S. has a responsibility to uphold its tradition of honoring the right of asylum seekers to seek refuge in the U.S.

Instead, Eiland said, "the administration is illegally trying to turn away asylum seekers and pass the buck to other countries that can't protect them."