COVID-Positive Deportees Contaminate U.S.-Guatemalan Relations

Last Thursday, Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei became the first Central American leader to criticize the United States’s deportation policy amid the coronavirus pandemic. American deportees have contributed over a hundred new names to Guatemala’s list of infected. The new arrivals, Giammattei says, cause “serious problems” for an already struggling healthcare system – behaviour unbefitting of a so-called ally.

“We understand that the United States wants to deport people,” he told Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council. “We understand that, but what we don’t understand is that they send us contaminated flights.”

Other Central American countries have received medical aid and political expressions of support, Giammattei says. Guatemala has not. “The United States has helped other countries, including with ventilators, and to us, nothing has come, not even chopped corn. We don’t feel very grateful for the way we have been treated.”

The pandemic has slowed down deportation rates overall, but despite a brief suspension of flights, Guatemala is still receiving infected deportees. And coronavirus isn’t the only arrival Guatemala doesn’t have the infrastructure to handle. The United States deported more than five times as many unaccompanied minors in March as it did in January, before new border policies were effected. Before the pandemic, unaccompanied minors were taken in by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, where they could apply for asylum in the U.S. Now, 200 children are being sent to Guatemala, alone.

These children are in danger, says Michelle Brané. Brané is the director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

“When you send kids back without any precautions, without any screening, you create a situation in which traffickers, smugglers, and people who want to take advantage of them are literally waiting for them in these border towns,” she told the New York Times.

The new policies are rotten on multiple levels, all of which point to an overwhelming disregard for human life. U.S. border policy was draconian enough before President Trump seized the surgeon general’s authority to throw more refugees into detainment. People were already dying of flu in Immigration and Customs Enforcement holding cells before COVID-19 caught on. With overcrowded conditions, sanitation and health-care infractions, and lack of care, ICE has created the perfect breeding ground for coronavirus.

Trump calls immigrants vectors of disease, but it’s ICE’s detainment centres that are spreading the pandemic.

Deporting immigrants look good for Trump. He built a campaign around driving out the “rapists” and “animals” last election, and the inflated numbers are sure to be a hit with his political base this year. But that isn’t all the policy does for him. By shipping off the infected, Trump is keeping American numbers down while sticking Central America with the tab. If Guatemala wants to complain about it, that’s only more reason for Trump to run up the bill.

Behaviour like this is petty, vicious, and downright cruel. Human beings are not mancala pieces, to be tossed around as one pleases, and sending infected people to another country with the aim to hurt is biological warfare. Trump is killing people for the sake of his re-election.

In any other leader, we would call that evil.

The ACLU is working tirelessly to combat these policies and free vulnerable people before they can be weaponized. If you have anything to spare, I urge you to donate to this organization or any others with a similar mission. These refugees deserve the truth, liberty, and justice they risked their lives to find, not rattrap cells and a return flight to a country struggling to protect them. This is not the freedom America stands for. I am sick of giving other countries a reason to think it is.

With thanks to Jonathan Blitzer.