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Voces: U.S. and Central American advocates denounce deportations, ACAs, and human rights violations during the pandemic

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Date: Jul 23, 2020

Author: Ian Tisdale

Panelists from the NISGUA webinar on June 29th

 

LAWG has closely monitored the impact of the Trump Administration’s cruel immigration policies implemented during this global pandemic. The administration has closed off access to the asylum system leaving migrants in dangerous positions. U.S. migration authorities are rapidly deporting migrants, many of whom are COVID positive, back to countries with fragile healthcare systems. The Trump Administration is falsely using public health concerns to advance its anti-immigrant agenda. 

The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, (NISGUA) in collaboration with LAWG, the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, and several other United States and Central American based organizations recently held a webinar with advocates from the U.S., Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras denouncing the continuation of these policies during the pandemic.  “What we know for certain is that the current government of the United States has launched an unprecedented attack against the immigrant community in general, particularly against those who come to the southern border seeking protection, and those who live undocumented in the United States,” said Felipe Navarro Lux, Manager of Regional Initiatives for the Center of Gender and Refugee Studies.

Silvia Raquec, Director of the Migration Program for La Asociación Pop No’j, an advocacy group defending the rights of the Maya people of Guatemala, identified how overcrowded migrant detention facilities with inhumane conditions are fostering outbreaks of coronavirus, risking migrants’ lives. “Everyone in detention centers is at risk of contracting the virus, and those places, where the virus is…migrants should not be detained in these centers,” she said during the webinar. Detainees in these facilities are rarely given personal protective equipment like masks or gloves, and hygiene products like hand sanitizer to protect themselves from COVID-19, and fail to be tested for the virus before being placed on deportation flights. 

Asylum seekers deported under the ACA agreements supposedly return to “safe” third countries. However, many deportees who return to Guatemala, not only face threats of violence, but a nation with a collapsing healthcare system. “Guatemala is not a safe third country,” said Racquec. “It is important to emphasize that the situation is more dire in the context of the pandemic, we see that the healthcare system is very precarious…Guatemala is not ready for this kind of crisis, Guatemala is not ready to take care of its own citizens, much less those who are deported here.”

 Bianka Rodriguez, Executive Director of COMCAVIS Trans, an organization based in El Salvador dedicated to defending the rights of El Salvador’s LGBTQ+ population, discussed how migrants are returned to El Salvador without any support networks or infrastructure, and without any constitutional rights. “The repressive measures by this new government use the pandemic to violate our constitutional rights, arguing that the right to health will supersede all other rights of the people,” said Rodriguez “What worries us the most, El Salvador doesn’t have a specific protocol on how to receive deported people, let alone care for our own population…yet, even though we are in a pandemic, and the border in theory is completely closed, it is not closed to deportations.”

For Bianka and COMCAVIS Trans, many of those affected by ACA deportations come from extremely vulnerable populations, like the LGBTQ+ community. “In El Salvador, the LGBTQ+ population is not safe,” she said. “In 2018 alone, we documented 102 LGBTQ+ people displaced by violence, many of which migrated to the U.S. in search of protection.” 

To Cristina Sebastián, on the Board of Directors for The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango, a rural state in northern Guatemala, those most adversely affected by ACA in the region are indigenous populations, and single mothers and children fleeing extreme poverty and domestic violence. “We live in a country where the majority of the migrants that are deported come from indigenous communities, who historically, are left out and forgotten by policies from the Guatemalan government. Not only this, but there are minors and single women, where the situation is very difficult for them to return to a life they previously lived, many fleeing familial violence, or forced labor,” Sebastián said. 

In Honduras, deported migrants are placed in detention-like quarantine centers in abysmal conditions when returned. “There have been countless testimonies from Honduran migrants talking about the absolute lack of appropriate conditions in these centers,” said Yolanda González, an advocate with  Radio Progreso/ERIC, a Honduran organization dedicated to human rights advocacy and research. “The conditions of deported Hondurans are symbolic of the absolute lack of capacity and willpower of the Honduran political system to respect human rights and public safety.” Upon return, many Honduran deportees are placed in quarantine  centers for 15 days, mostly in San Pedro Sula, in the northern part of the country. There are reports of a lack of social distancing, and lack of access to food in those centers.  

 González also denounced the safe third country agreement, or ACA, between the United States and Honduras. “The Honduras asylum system, as the U.S. knows full well, is inefficient. It’s not a system that guarantees human rights,” González said. “When you think of Honduras and asylum, you think of how, in 2018 there were 43,000 people seeking asylum from Honduras, while only 80 from other countries requested asylum in Honduras,” she said, pointing out the contradiction of implementing the ACAin such a dangerous country from which so many Hondurans flee regularly.

U.S. deportations and anti-asylum policies are exporting coronavirus, destabilizing Central American countries with collapsing healthcare systems, and returning migrants to the same dangers they were once fleeing. We will continue to stand with our regional advocates, and fight for more compassionate policies that protect the right to seek international protection and the right to migrate.