The United States has more confirmed coronavirus infections than any other country in the world, but Latin American nations have been especially hard-hit, and Brazil and Colombia have mortality rates from the disease that exceed the U.S. mark, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
There are no major conferences for Wolf to attend in the region that week, and at least one person familiar with the outlines of the plan referred to the trip as “a boondoggle.”
“There are no specific events requiring the travel,” the person said. “The region is hard-hit by covid and embassies will be hard-pressed to deal with so many visitors in a covid-safe way.”
In addition to top aides, Wolf’s travel would require a Secret Service security detail and the assistance of embassy staffers in each nation.
Homeland Security officials declined to discuss Wolf’s tentative plans.
“The Department of Homeland Security does not comment on allegedly leaked documents,” spokesman Alexei Woltornist said in a statement. “The Department will continue to carry out its mission protecting the Homeland.”
One person with knowledge of the plans said the purpose of the trip would be to advance discussions on a range of topics, from cargo security to cybercrime and criminal fugitives. The DHS delegation will observe the same diplomatic protocols followed by the State Department to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the person said.
While a stop in Brazil is the least likely of the five nations on the itinerary, the other four remain part of Wolf’s plans, the person said.
Under Trump, DHS has signed “asylum cooperation agreements” with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that allow U.S. authorities to take migrants seeking humanitarian protections and fly them to Central America instead.
The agreement with Guatemala is the only one that has taken effect, but Trump administration officials have sought to reach bilateral agreements with other nations in Latin America. They argue that asylum seekers should attempt to find safety in the closest nation capable of protecting them once they have left their home country, rather than making a long and dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border.
President-elect Joe Biden campaigned on a pledge to “end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies,” but the proposals he outlines stop short of vowing to cancel the cooperation agreements.
One of the officials involved in planning Wolf’s trip said the asylum agreements will not be the main focus of his visits.