By late April, it was estimated that those deported from the US to Guatemala made up to «20% of the 500 [Covid] cases in Guatemala». The Guatemalan government asked the US to stop deportations and to screen deportees for covid-19, but the US ignored the request.
Guatemala became the first country to suspend deportation flights from the US on March 17. While this would be overturned two days later, Guatemala attempted to suspend deportations again in April due to covid. In response, Donald Trump threatened to stop processing visas and place sanctions on countries that barred the repatriation of deportees. Despite these calls to the Trump administration, deportations continued soon after threatened sanctions. The continuous deportations led President Alejandro Giammattei to state: “That of being allies with the United States is not true. Guatemala is an ally of the United States, [but] the United States is not an ally of Guatemala”. At the same time, it is important to note that Guatemala does not have the capabilities to adequately combat the pandemic due to its poor and underfunded healthcare system, which is the result of the government’s historic ineptitude, corruption and mismanagement. The lack of concern and apathy for the well-being and health of the people became clear when Giammattei declared that the country would open in August: “We have transferred the responsibility to the people. If they want to take care of themselves, they will [...] Today it is a people’s problem”. Clearly, neither the US nor the Guatemalan government are an ally of the people.
Between February 3 and October 14, 2020, there have been an estimated 632 deportation flights from the US to Latin America and the Caribbean. Of these, 26% were to Guatemala. The Guatemalan Migration Institute reports that there has been a total of 17,509 people deported on 199 flights from the US to Guatemala between January 1 and October 9, 2020. While deportation flights decreased in March due to the pandemic, they have increased since then. In March, there were 33 deportation flights, in comparison to 8 in April, 7 in both May and June, 13 in July, 14 in August, 21 in September and 9 in the first week of October. Between April and September there were 5,177 returnees, the majority being adult men, who accounted for 75% (3,873), followed by unaccompanied minors, who made up to 17% (882) of those deported. In fact, the deportation of unaccompanied minors by air has increased dramatically during the pandemic. In January, there were 4,171 air deportations, 16 of them of unaccompanied minors (0.003% of the returned). Compare that to August data, when the 254 children deported by air represented 19% of total air deportations (1,346) for that month from the US to Guatemala. The high and increasing rates of deportation and expulsion of unaccompanied minors are alarming.
Deported migrants from the US are not always provided with personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, to prevent the spread of the virus. In some cases, there have been reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials concealing detainees’ symptoms. Deportations continue today despite the fact that the US remains the country with the highest covid death rate, with 217,000 deaths. It is important not to criminalize or blame migrants or deportees for the possible spread of covid since the governments are the ones practicing a policy of negligence and a lack of concern towards migrants and the Guatemalan population. Deportations need to stop immediately, especially for the well-being of migrants.
In the next column I will explore how the Trump administration has used the pandemic and an emergency order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expel and deport migrants.
Read it in Spanish here.
Más de este autor