Safe Third Country or Baltimore?

You'd be surprised — the facts are the facts

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 2, 2019

In a November 21, 2019, post, I wrote about an interim final rule (IFR) that modifies existing regulations to implement Asylum Cooperative Agreements (ACAs, also known as "safe third-country agreements") the United States has entered into with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, allowing asylum officers and immigration judges to send third-country asylum applicants to one of those three countries to apply for asylum. Despite claims that those countries are too dangerous for asylum seekers, each is safer than my erstwhile hometown of Baltimore, Md.

With respect to reports about the danger in those countries, take, for example, the following from Vox:

[T]he countries with which Trump has brokered or sought to broker safe third country agreements have a long history of instability and violence, and, in some cases, asylum seekers are in particular danger.

In Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, migrants are commonly robbed, kidnapped for ransom, raped, tortured, and killed. The State Department, meanwhile, has issued travel warnings for US citizens in all four countries.

Sounds pretty bad. But now consider this August 1, 2019, report from Baltimore CBS affiliate WJZ, looking at statistics from 2018:

Data from the U.S. State Department's Overseas Security Advisory Council lists El Salvador's murder rate at 50 per 100,000 residents in 2018.

The council's report listed Guatemala's 2018 murder rate at 22 per 100,000.

Honduras' 2018 murder rate was not included in OSAC's annual crime and safety report published in April, but a report from the Observatory of Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras gave a figure of 41.4 murders per 100,000 residents.


Charm City ended 2018 with a total of 309 murders, according to the Baltimore Police Department. So far in 2019, police report 196 homicides have occurred.

Using the U.S. Census Bureau's July 2018 population estimate for the city of 602,495, Baltimore's 2018 murder rate is 51.3 murders per 100,000 residents.

There you have it. And, things have not gotten better in Baltimore since August. By November 21, 2019, the city had tied last year's total of 309 murders, with 40 days left in the year. A Baltimore Police Department dashboard shows 243 rapes through November 23, more than 3,000 street robberies, 349 residential robberies, 703 shootings, 516 carjackings, almost 5,000 burglaries, and more than 5,000 aggravated assaults. There are no reports for kidnappings or torture, but really, things are bad enough.

Gangs? From Fox 45 News in February:

A 23-year-old Baltimore man has been sentenced to life in jail for leading "one of the most violent gangs" in Baltimore and personally committing six murders.

Montana Barronette — also known as "Tana" and "Tanner" — "was known as the number one trigger puller in Baltimore and the leader of the vicious Trained To Go gang that terrorized the streets of West Baltimore" from 2010 to 2017, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office press release Friday.

Barronette and seven co-defendants (plus one member who remains at large) have been part of TTG (Trained To Go), which oversaw drug distribution and violence — including murder, armed robbery and witness intimidation — in the Sandtown neighborhood.

From WJZ in June:

14 suspected members of the J30 Payback Crips gang have been arrested in connection with a months-long drug investigation in northeast Baltimore, officials announced Friday.

On Wednesday, police conducted a number of search warrants in the Coldstream, Homestad and Upper Montebello areas of Baltimore and found 200 grams of cocaine, 236 grams of heroin and fentanyl, three guns and $43,000 in cash.

The U.S. Attorney's Office reported in October:

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today sentenced Shakeen Davis, a/k/a "Creams," age 25, of Baltimore, Maryland to 30 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for racketeering and drug conspiracies related to his participation in the gang activities of the Murdaland Mafia Piru (MMP), a subset of the Bloods gang. Davis was also convicted of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine; two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon; and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The evidence established that Davis attempted to murder two individuals on May 30, 2015, firing multiple rounds at his intended victims with an assault rifle in the middle of a busy intersection in broad daylight. The jury returned its guilty verdict on April 30, 2019.


On April 29, 2019, the final day of trial before the case went to the jury for deliberation, Davis was caught trying to smuggle razor blades into the federal courtroom.

And, of course, Maryland has its fair share of MS-13, in adjacent Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, as well as in nearby Frederick, Prince George's, and Montgomery Counties.

How about corruption? Consider the following headline from Vox in December 2014: "How the Black Guerrilla Family [BGF] Turned Maryland's Prison System into Their Personal Playground: The gang was so powerful in a Baltimore city jail that its leader was having the guards deliver crab imperial and Grey Goose right to his cell, according to court documents". One takeaway:

Black Guerilla Family shot-caller Tavon "Bulldog" White testified in federal court last week, in the process describing his rise to power and the inner workings of the prison-based gang. Prosecutors say the BGF smuggled contraband like drugs and cellphones into various Maryland correctional institutions. Perhaps most inflammatory is the claim prosecutors have made involving sex between inmates and guards, which apparently led to four female officers being impregnated by White. He was the "city-wide commander" of the gang and allegedly seduced the guards by buying them cars. In his testimony, White detailed how his agenda was to "make money" and "run the jail, pretty much. I wasn't trying to be some flunky." [Emphasis added.]

As the Justice Department explained in March: "BGF is a nationwide gang operating in prisons and in cities throughout the United States, including in Baltimore. BGF is involved in criminal activity including murder, robbery, extortion, drug trafficking, obstruction of justice, and witness intimidation."

Did I mention that Baltimore has had an acting mayor since April? The prior one just pled guilty on November 21 to "federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and two counts of tax evasion." A prior mayor was convicted in 2009 "on a single charge she took gift cards intended for the city's poor." You read that correctly.

Now ask yourself a question: Would anyone in the United States say that Baltimore was too dangerous for a foreign-national asylum applicant to live in? Of course not. In fact, at a February 2019 hearing before a House Appropriations Subcommittee, I explained that the murder rate in Baltimore and St. Louis was higher than in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) asserted it was "a strange and false comparison to say that the conditions in Baltimore or St. Louis are worse than these countries ... that was so bizarre and so not based in reality."

The facts are the facts. Perhaps the facts are bizarre — but, they are based in reality. In 2018, according to Business Insider, Baltimore (number 23) was more violent than Guatemala City (43), Distrito Central Honduras (Tegucigalpa) (39), San Pedro Sula, Honduras (33), and San Salvador, El Salvador (24), but was still doing better than St. Louis (15).

Is there any national movement to take in refugees from Baltimore? Does anyone argue that Washington needs to do more in Baltimore to improve the lives of the people there so that they would not have to leave, or that asylum applicants should not wait in Baltimore for their hearings? If a child from Baltimore were to somehow end up in, say, Minneapolis, would the government refuse to return that child to Baltimore? The answer is obviously no. Yet, these arguments and proposals are all made with respect to countries from which foreign nationals who have illegally entered the United States hail.

Consider these facts as the Trump administration implements the IFR, and enters into more ACAs.

Topics: Asylum