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Official Alleges The U.S. Has Deported Many COVID-19-Positive Migrants To Guatemala

An immigration worker in an orange jacket carries a young Guatemalan deported from the U.S., followed by another deportee, at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City on March 12.
Moises Castillo
An immigration worker in an orange jacket carries a young Guatemalan deported from the U.S., followed by another deportee, at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City on March 12.

Guatemala's Health Minister Hugo Monroy says migrants deported back to Guatemala from the United States now account for a large number of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Monroy made the statement on Tuesday as deportation flights resumed after a one-week suspension in the wake of the discovery of three cases of returned migrants infected with the virus.

The health minister told a congressional hearing in Guatemala City that at least half of the country's now almost 200 COVID-19 cases could be traced back to migrants returned from the U.S, which he referred to as "the Wuhan of the Americas."

Monroy claimed there was one flight in which "75% of the returned migrants tested positive for the virus."

According to the Associated Press, the health minister's remarks contradict statements made earlier by President Alejandro Giammattei, who has previously identified only four confirmed cases of returned migrants testing positive for COVID-19. Giammattei made no mention of the health minister's bombshell statement in his daily report to the nation on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Monroy retracted the claim he made Tuesday that more than half of CONVID-19 infections could be traced to deported migrants but repeated that three-quarters of returned migrants on one flight in March had tested positive for the coronavirus.

As the COVID-19 crisis spread to Central America in the last month, the governments of Guatemala and other Central American countries had requested temporary suspension of the deportation flights. On Tuesday, Guatemala's Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo confirmed flights of returned migrants would continue, saying, "We have begun ... negotiations with the Embassy and government of the United States to improve conditions of those being returned from the United States ... to be able to guarantee diminished risk they [will] arrive infected by COVID-19."

Guatemalan news reports indicated the pressure of sanctions was being placed on Central American governments to resume the return flights of deportees.

Meanwhile, church and refugee groups like Refugees International called for migrants to be tested before being deported back to their home countries. The Guatemalan Episcopal Conference, an umbrella organization of religious groups, on Wednesday strongly criticized both the United States and Mexico for continuing to send migrants back during the current public health crisis. Part of the CEG's statement read: "We raise our voice and ask the governments of the U.S. and Mexico in the name of a suffering people to stop the deportations."

A spokesperson for ICE, U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the health and safety of migrants under ICE care "is one of our highest priorities," and "Every ICE detainee must pass a health screening by a flight medical provider or they will be denied boarding."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Maria Martin

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