75% of Migrants Deported to Guatemala on Single Flight Tested Positive for Coronavirus: Health Minister
Conor Finnegan, ABC News, April 15, 2020
A single deportation flight to Guatemala by the U.S. government saw more than 75% of the migrants later test positive for novel coronavirus, the country’s health minister told reporters on Tuesday.
Guatemala, along with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico, has urged the U.S. to halt removals and deportations or take other steps to stop the virus’ spread from the U.S., now the epicenter of the pandemic.
But last Friday, President Donald Trump instead signed a memorandum to authorize sanctions against any country that doesn’t accept removals from the U.S. — a threat to all four countries, despite concerns about the ability of their fragile health systems to handle severe outbreaks.
The Guatemalan government has said that so far, four Guatemalans deported from the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Associated Press.
But Health Minister Hugo Monroy suggested Tuesday that a recent spike in cases was because of deportations from the U.S. On one flight, more than 75% of migrants later tested positive, he said, adding he couldn’t specify because of security reasons.
He also suggested that between 50% and 75% of all migrants deported from the U.S. recently have tested positive, without specifying what time frame he was talking about or providing a total number, but he later walked that back, saying he was referring to one flight.
The country’s Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance has reported 180 cases in total, with five deaths. If Monroy is correct, it could mean dozens of Guatemala’s cases are tied to U.S. deportations.
“There are really flights where the deportees arrive … citizens who come with fever, and they get on the planes that way,” Monroy said. “We automatically evaluate them here and test them and many of them have come back positive.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to request for comment Tuesday. Deportation flights resumed Monday with 182 migrants on two separate flights, according to the AP, after a week-long pause because of concerns that deportees were carrying the virus.
The U.S. has over 609,000 cases of the new coronavirus, exponentially more than its poorer southern neighbors — with 5,399 in Mexico, 419 in Honduras, 180 in Guatemala and 149 in El Salvador.
Despite pleas for the U.S. to help, including by halting deportations, the White House announced late Friday that President Donald Trump signed a new memo allowing the State Department and Homeland Security to issue visa bans for officials from countries that refuse to accept removed immigrants.