FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, an officer watches as immigrants who entered the United States illegally are deported on a flight to El Salvador by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston. Civil rights activists complained…
FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2018, photo, an officer watches as immigrants who entered the United States illegally are deported on a flight to El Salvador by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston.

NEW YORK - The United States planned to sign an agreement Friday to help make one of Central America's most violent countries, El Salvador, a haven for migrants seeking asylum, according to a senior Trump administration official. 
 
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan would sign a ``cooperative asylum agreement.'' 
 
Two other officials described the agreement as a first step in the governments' working together on asylum. Details of the agreement will be settled in the weeks ahead, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity. 
 
The agreement could be struck despite the fact that many Salvadorans are fleeing their nation and seeking asylum in the United States. A Salvadoran delegation has been in the U.S. this week discussing the matter. 

FILE - Mexican officials and U.S. Border Patrol officers return a group of migrants to the Mexico side of the border as Mexican immigration officials check the list, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, July 25, 2019.

Remain-in-Mexico policy
 
The asylum agreement would be the latest effort by President Donald Trump's administration to force asylum-seekers in Central America to seek refuge outside the United States. Immigration officials also are forcing more than 42,000 people to remain in Mexico as their cases play out, and they have changed policy to deny asylum to anyone who transited through a third country en route to the southern border of the U.S. 
 
The agreement would be another step by the Trump administration aimed at stopping the flow of migrants into the United States. McAleenan also signed a  "safe third country" agreement with Guatemala, but officials in that country are still working out how it would be implemented. 
 
The arrangement with El Salvador was not described as a ``safe third country'' agreement, under which nations agree that their respective countries are safe enough and have robust enough asylum systems, so that if migrants transit through one of the countries they must remain there instead of moving on to another country. 
 
The U.S. officially has only one such agreement in place, with Canada, but has been working toward others in Honduras and agreed to the one in Guatemala that has not yet been implemented. 
 
The Trump administration this year threatened to withhold all federal assistance to three Central American countries unless they did more to stem the migrant flow. Congress resisted the move, as experts had said that the cuts would most likely only exacerbate the number of migrants seeking to make the hazardous journey to the U.S. because of a further lack of resources. 
 
In June, the State Department announced that the Trump administration was reversing some of the cuts but would not approve future aid to those nations. The State Department said then that $370 million from the 2018 budget would not be spent and instead would be moved to other projects. 

FILE - MS-13 gang members wait to be escorted upon arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, Aug. 9, 2017.

Dangerous place

Gang-plagued El Salvador is among the world's deadliest countries, with one of the highest homicide rates on the globe. 
 
According to a 2018 State Department report, human rights issues included allegations of ``unlawful killings of suspected gang members and others by security forces; forced disappearances by military personnel; torture by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of government respect for judicial independence.'' 
 
Many people who flee from El Salvador have said they and their families were threatened by gang members. Teenagers often are pressured to join gangs and have had their lives and their families threatened if they refuse. Some young women are forced to become the girlfriends of gang members, facing rape or murder if they refuse. 
 
The two main street gangs in El Salvador are MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, both of which trace their origins to Los Angeles, where many Salvadorans sought refuge during their country's civil war. Gang members arrested for crimes in the U.S. were deported back to El Salvador, taking their knowledge of gang culture with them. Trump frequently seizes on MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, as a reason to tighten U.S. immigration policy.