~ by Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
A report by the Washington-based Refugees International organization charges U.S. immigration policy with [exacerbating] the spread of the coronavirus in Guatemala, as federal agencies in the U.S. and Mexico have repatriated infected Guatemalans through deportations.
In “Harmful Returns: The Compounded Vulnerabilities of Returned Guatemalans in the Time of COVID-19,” a report released on June 23, Refugees International urges that Guatemalans seeking refuge be allowed to apply for asylum in the U.S., instead of being turned over to Mexican authorities or repatriated, and that they be allowed to go with U.S. sponsors while they wait for their day in immigration court.
But U.S. policies such as the “Remain in Mexico” program, also called the Migrant Protection Protocols or MPP, which asks those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico until a U.S. immigration court can adjudicate their case, have led to the eventual return home of many Guatemalans and other Central Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Guatemalan officials halted flights carrying deportees into the country, saying that at least 20% of its COVID-19 cases had resulted from deportees who contracted the virus in U.S. detention centers. Citing those figures, Refugees International said once they were returned to Guatemala, deportees tested positive for COVID-19, “despite having clean bill of health documents from the United States.”
And, once they return to Guatemala, they were met with stigma, lack of jobs and still facing dangerous conditions in addition to having contracted the virus, the group says.
“These measures force home many Guatemalans with valid refugee claims who are at risk of persecution upon return,” the group said. “Others have legitimate fears for their security and safety when they get home because returnees are at greater risk of becoming targets of violence and extortion.
“Once back, Guatemalans often struggle to reintegrate. They face unique challenges in earning a livelihood; and women, indigenous groups and children face particular barriers to accessing many basic public services. Also, healthcare is lacking, particularly for psychological or specialized services.”
The main concern is that people seeking refuge in the U.S., including children, are exposed to unsafe conditions during detention and then turned away or put in conditions that risk their health and their lives while in custody.
The organization has recommended testing prior to deportation as well as testing once the returnees arrive, saying a lack of such measures puts those deported and the general population at risk. Deported Guatemalans return only to face hunger, a stagnant economy, and restrictions on their movement.