US deportation flights resume despite pandemic

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) — Guatemala again began receiving deportation flights from the United States this week after a one-week pause prompted by three deportees testing positive for COVID-19.

The Guatemalan Government had asked the United States to send no more than 25 deportees per flight, to give them health exams before departure, and to certify that they are not infected.

However, the flights resumed Monday with 76 migrants aboard the first and 106 on the second. Guatemala’s foreign ministry did not immediately clarify why the US had not complied with its requirements, but the flights came on the same day that the US State Department announced that aid would continue to Guatemala and the other Northern Triangle countries.

At least three of the migrants who arrived Monday were taken directly to a hospital for COVID-19 testing. One of the flights also included 16 unaccompanied minors, according to the Guatemalan Immigration Institute. Citing the epidemic as the cause, the US has started to swiftly deport unaccompanied minors rather than holding them in protective settings, as specified by law.

Also on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that he had informed Congress that the US Government would continue assistance for Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in order to continue to lower illegal immigration and accomplish other policy objectives.

Pompeo said that since illegal immigration from those three countries peaked in May 2019, “encounters” with migrants from those countries has fallen by 76 per cent. The US Government has effectively ended any possibility of seeking asylum at the southern border with emergency restrictions applied in the face of the epidemic.

Before the epidemic, the US had also started sending Hondurans and Salvadorans to Guatemala and similarly had agreements in place to begin doing so in Honduras and El Salvador.