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Migrants deported by U.S. make up more than 15% of Guatemala’s coronavirus cases

Immigrants are led onto a flight in the United States.
Immigrants are led onto a flight in the United States.
(John Miller / Associated Press)

Guatemalan officials said Monday they would begin routinely accepting U.S. deportation flights again after being promised that every passenger would first have to test negative for the novel coronavirus.

The country halted the flights two weeks ago after scores of passengers turned out to be infected with COVID-19.

As of Monday, 117 deportees on four flights from the U.S. had tested positive for the virus, according to the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry. They account for more than 15% of all infections in the country.

Guatemala accepted one flight last week after U.S. immigration authorities said they had screened all 89 deportees for the virus. But it remained unclear whether such flights would resume on a regular basis.

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Under the new guidelines laid out by Guatemalan officials, the number of deportees on each flight would drop from about 100 to about 75.

On Monday, 76 Guatemalan deportees arrived on a flight from Houston and immediately underwent medical examinations.

“None presented symptoms,” said Alejandra Mena, spokeswoman for the country’s Migration Institute.

Three more flights were scheduled for this week, Guatemalan officials said.

Judges, attorneys and immigrant rights advocates ask the U.S. government to slow the coronavirus spread and its effect on the immigration system.

Guatemala has paused and resumed deportation flights several times amid ongoing concerns that the flights might be importing the virus.

Guatemala first discovered infected deportees in late March, after about 30 passengers on a flight from Arizona tested positive.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been conducting basic health screenings on the deportees but was not regularly testing them for the coronavirus.

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On March 30, Guatemalan Vice President Guillermo Castillo told a local radio station that he “begged” the U.S. to stop deportation flights to Guatemala.

In mid-April, the Trump administration sent a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Guatemala to help officials there test deportees.

Central American governments can do little to stop the U.S. from deporting migrants who may introduce coronavirus cases to the region.


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