Despite having almost completely suspended its immigration system, and despite being the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world, the United States has sent dozens of infected immigrants to countries in Central America and the Caribbean.
The president announced a month ago he would “suspend immigration” to the country, arguing security protocols necessary in the national public health emergency, which led to the suspension of immigration hearings and the expulsion of more than 20,000 asylum seekers.
However, as the The New York Times explained, most of the immigrants attempting to cross the border were not carriers of COVID-19. But those who have been removed from the country — either across the border or on ICE flights — have accounted for about 20 percent of new cases in countries such as Guatemala.
Honduras and El Salvador have also continued to receive immigrants deported from the United States who have tested positive for coronavirus. Despite the U.S. government’s commitment to testing before expelling immigrants, officials at immigrant centers in Central America have said that this has not been entirely true.
“We’re worried that eventually, with these deportations, we’re all going to get infected,” said Ricardo Calderón Macías, the regional director of the Tamaulipas state immigration institute, to The Washington Post.
Once Guatemala received 50 deportees who tested positive — about 17 percent of the country’s total confirmed cases at the time — the government decided to suspend returns from the United States.
Other countries like Haiti, considered one of the poorest in the region and whose infrastructure is not at all prepared to deal with the pandemic, have received three contaminated deportees.
“Rather than be deported where they face serious harm if they fall ill and risk infecting thousands of others, they should be released from detention into the care of their friends and families so that they may safely quarantine,” a coalition of 164 human rights and religious organizations said in an open letter pleading for suspension of deportations.
According to The New Yorker, the Trump administration deported 18,000 people during the month of March, and nearly 3,000 in the first 11 days of April. Meanwhile, the border remained sealed and only two people have been granted asylum so far this year.
Despite the efforts of humanitarian organizations and Central American governments, the deportation flights resumed, and only days later the Guatemalan health minister, Hugo Monroy, announced that “between 50 and 75% of the newly arrived deportees were infected,” The New Yorker continued.
By mid-April, authorities confirmed that 74 cases had been caused by just two deportation flights.
Today, Guatemala has 1,912 confirmed cases, 35 deaths, and 138 people recovered.
“We must not stigmatize,” Monroy said. “But I have to speak clearly. The arrival of deportees who have tested positive has really increased the number of cases.” The United States, he added, had become “the Wuhan of the Americas.”