Guatemala’s Health Minister Hugo Monroy denounced Tuesday that an estimated 75 percent of the people on one deportation flight from the United States later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, raising fears that the U.S. is willfully sending sick people back.
US Continues Deporting Guatemalans Amid the Pandemic
"There are really flights where the deportees arrive ... citizens who come with fever, and they get on the planes that way," Monroy said, adding they “automatically evaluate them here and test them and many of them have come back positive."
Later President Alejandro Giammattei, a U.S. ally, addressed the country but made no mention of the deportees. Yet his presidential spokesman Carlos Sandoval told reporters that Monroy was actually referring to a March flight.
Despite the brash change in narrative from Guatemala’s government, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry confirmed a fourth COVID-19 case from a migrant who arrived on a flight Monday and at least three others were taken directly to a hospital for testing.
On Monday, 76 migrants arrived in Guatemala in one of two deportation flights, with the second carrying 106 people.
The Guatemalan government had asked the U.S. to not send more than 25 deportees per flight, to give them health exams before departure and to certify that they were not infected.
But the U.S. did not comply and on Friday Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo threatened with visa sanctions to punish any nation that "denies or unreasonably delays" taking its citizens as they are deported from the U.S.
On March 17, President Alejandro Giammattei administration suspended flights from the U.S., Honduras, and Mexico to prevent the importation of cases and the spread of the infection but Guatemalans continue to be sent back.
Since January, the U.S. has deported nearly 12,000 Guatemalans, including more than 1,200 children.
With the U.S. becoming the epicenter of the global pandemic with over 640,000 cases, with now reported infected migrants under migration facilities, many experts fear that the U.S. will export the virus to nations that are much ill-prepared to handle a health emergency withing its borders.
"Unless deportees have access to testing prior to boarding the plane, there is no guarantee that they are not at risk of spreading the virus to others on the plane or to their families once they arrive home," Latin America advocate for Refugees International Rachel Schmidtke told ABC News.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials say 77 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as 21 ICE employees.