Guadalajara, April 21, 2020 – just over a month ago, on March 18, 2020, the United States government decided to close its borders with Canada and Mexico to “non-essential crossings,” in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The Guatemalan government, on the same date, declared the “state of public calamity”: it decreed the closure of borders and restricted the mobility of people as a measure to prevent the spread of the pandemic. One month after the border closes, the measure has been extended for an additional 30 days, the pandemic has expanded and deportations have not stopped despite restrictions at border crossings.
To the governments of the United States and Mexico, it would appear that deportations of irregular migrants are essential border crossings. Deportations from the United States to Mexico and Central America have continued despite the recommendations and denunciations of various groups from civil society and the Catholic Church in the face of the pandemic. Similarly, Mexico has tried to return to Central America the migrants released from the custody of the INM (National Institute of Migration), but the closure of the borders has prevented the deportees from entering through the regulated border crossings to their places of origin.
Deportations to Mexico are carried out by land, at any time of the day, without passing through sanitary controls and both Mexican and Central Americans are deported, which is a violation of international law by not granting them any document that proves their legal stay in the country. The repatriations of migrants to Central America are carried out, in most cases by air and in a few, by land, to reduce the risk of contagion of the coronavirus in the INM Migration Stations, but without calculating the impact that this measure can have in the places to which the migrants return. Mexico is deporting Hondurans to Guatemala, following the same logic of the United States of deporting migrants to the closest border. Guatemala is accepting deported Hondurans, although the borders are closed.
Given the media reports of cases of Mexicans infected with COVID-19 in the United States, the local population has developed a fear of those who return from the United States and may spread the pandemic. “Mexico is in suspense because, in a single month, thousands of returnees can spread the coronavirus in areas that are still free of it. Remote villages, isolated in the mountains, will receive the countrymen who left without knowing that the “bug” may have traveled with them. ” The same situation is taking place in various departments of Guatemala, there have even been manifestations of violence against deported migrants who return to their country to face the health crisis. “The National Council for Attention to Migrants (Conamigua) asked Guatemalans to avoid attacks of discrimination against Guatemalans returned from the United States, in fear of contagion from the coronavirus, also asked the authorities to ensure their rights.” Unfortunately, the authorities have not dealt with this situation with clear protocols.
There is no clarity in the sanitary measures or in the emergency criteria that governments are taking to guarantee the safe entry of these deported migrants to their countries of origin. Some of the northern Mexican state governments criticize the federal government and the National Institute of Migration, for not having a strategy in front of the thousands of deported migrants who cross the borders without any health precautions.
Deportations will not stop despite claims by pro-migrant groups. Sadly, even in times of pandemic, ideological positions seem to be more important than the health of the most vulnerable.
By Fr. José Juan Cervantes, c.s. and Jairo Meraz Flores