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Health workers bring supplies delivered by family members to a temporary shelter for Guatemalan citizens deported from the United States. Source: Reuters.
Health workers bring supplies delivered by family members to a temporary shelter for Guatemalan citizens deported from the United States. Source: Reuters.

Trump Administration Exports Coronavirus Through Deportations

Mexico and Haiti have reported a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in immigrants recently deported from the United States.

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The president can agree on stopping almost everything but the deportations.

Despite the fact that the United States decided to temporarily suspend immigrant hearings, green card issues, and asylum applications, the deportation machinery in the country has not stopped.

Today, according to regional officials, the Trump government has deported immigrants carrying the virus to Central America.

Between Feb. 3 and April 24 of this year, immigration and customs (ICE) has conducted approximately 232 deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Although most deportations to Mexico are done by land, and although the Coronavirus pandemic has required border closures and flight suspensions, ICE's air operations, known as "ICE Air," have continued their work uninterrupted.

Since the Trump Administration declared a state of national emergency for the pandemic on March 13, " one ICE Air contractor has flown at least 72 likely deportation flights to 11 Latin America and Caribbean nations," the report explains, " including to Brazil and Ecuador, which are suffering the region’s worst outbreaks of COVID-19, and which have both experienced an increase in deportation flights under the Trump administration.”

Similarly, between March 15 and April 24, flights tracked by the investigation center determined that ICE Air appears to have conducted 21 deportation flights to Guatemala, 18 to Honduras, 12 to El Salvador, six to Brazil, three to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, and one to Colombia and Jamaica.

While the rate of deportees has dropped considerably over the same period during 2019 –the Washington Post reported in April that during the first 11 days of the month ICE had deported only 2,985 people– with deportees also goes a significant viral load.

Officials from Mexico and Haiti confirmed to Reuters a significant increase in COVID-19 cases among immigrants deported from the United States, following a recent outbreak in Guatemala, where the government counted one-fifth of all deportees as being positive for the virus.

Although their population densities are not comparable, the three countries have much lower rates of COVID infection and death than the United States, as well as poor infrastructure and health systems.

According to Al Jazeera, the deportation of people who tested positive for the virus "violates the U.S. and international public health guidelines" designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"Everyone knows the risks," Dr. Laure Adrien, executive director of Haiti's Ministry of Public Health, said to the media. "We are facing a pandemic.”

"Every positive case is one too many; any positive case is a risk," she added.

While the United States has recently instituted testing protocols for deportees –and only thanks to pressure from organizations such as Refugees International– hundreds of positive cases have already been exported via ICE flights to a continent that will likely take twice as long to recover from the effect of the pandemic.

“Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Haiti have very limited capacity for testing, surveillance, and treatment and a limited supply of medical equipment such as ventilators,” Sergio Martín, general coordinator for the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders in Mexico, said in a statement. “A major outbreak of Covid-19 could be catastrophic.”

So far, there are 200 reported positive cases of deportees in Guatemala, at least two in Mexico and three in Haiti, and asylum proceedings in the United States remain suspended.

Deportation flights, however, continue to do business as usual.

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