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Visiting El Salvador, US Homeland Security Chief Applauds Drop in Migration

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan speaks at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on Capitol Hill, July 18, 2019.

Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan signed a pact on Wednesday to collaborate more closely with El Salvador on migration and security, applauding a drop in migration since new Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele took office.

U.S. officials have sought migration deals with Central American governments as they aim to fulfill U.S. President Donald Trump's pledge to curb migrant flows.

Speaking alongside Bukele in San Salvador, McAleenan praised his host's efforts in reducing migration, saying the number of Salvadoran migrants reaching the United States' southern border was on pace to drop 60% since Bukele took office in June.

"The United States has already seen significant progress from your efforts," McAleenan said, addressing the Salvadoran president.

Under threat of sanctions, Guatemala agreed late last month to be designated as a "safe third country," meaning Hondurans and Salvadorans would be required to seek refuge in Guatemala, rather than proceeding north.

McAleenan suggested that such an agreement would not make sense with El Salvador, which has seen less migration in recent months than Guatemala and is less frequently traversed by U.S.-bound migrants from other countries.

"We're going to meet our partners where they are," said McAleenan, who arrived in El Salvador on Wednesday. "Some of that will involve asylum cooperation agreements.... But in other countries we're not going to need that type of partnership, it will be more operational or capacity building."

The letter of intent signed by McAleenan and El Salvador's minister of justice and security calls for heightened collaboration between law enforcement, including more sharing of information such as biometric data, as well as boosting economic development in El Salvador.

Officials also discussed expanding Salvadorans' access to work visas in the United States, Bukele said.

Before leaving El Salvador on Friday, McAleenan will visit a joint law enforcement training center, tour a migration center and meet with human rights groups and business leaders, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.