Guatemala says it will receive 3 US deportation flights

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala said Monday it will receive three flights this week carrying a total of 175 deported migrants after the United States agreed to test all those being deported for coronavirus.

The flights scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday mark a resumption of such deportations after Guatemala suspended themn because many migrants were later found to be suffering from the new coronavirus.

Guatemala’s Foreign Relations Ministry said the returning migrants “will carry with them a medical certificate that states they have been tested for COVID-19, with negative results.”

The first planeload of 89 previously tested migrants from Texas arrived in Guatemala last week.

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Alejandra Mena, the spokesperson for the country’s Migration Institute, said the migrants will be tested 72 hours before being deported and will be isolated before boarding flights. Unaccompanied minors detained at the U.S. border are also to be returned.

The returning migrants will also get health checks and may be monitored for up to 96 hours for symptoms.

The policy marks a major change in how the U.S. handles its deportation flights to Guatemala.

The Central American nation’s government suspended the flights after at least 44 deportees on an April 13 flight from Louisiana tested positive for the virus.

President Alejandro Giammattei recently referred to it as “that damned flight,” showing his frustration with a topic that has become sensitive domestically as the country’s teetering health system tries to confront the virus’ spread and there have been reports of harassment of deportees because other people feared they carried the virus.

Last week, Giammattei said in an interview that some countries were helping Guatemala with financial and medical resources to confront the virus while others “have sent us infected deportees, but not a dime.”

At least 100 Guatemalans deported from the U.S. between late March and mid-April have tested positive for the virus.

Since at least March, the government had been asking its U.S. counterparts to certify the health of deportees before putting them on flights. Until now, that had meant only checking their temperature or looking for other symptoms.

Last week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it plans to test all migrants before they are deported from the U.S., as well as all those in its custody, but doesn’t yet have enough tests to do so. It’s receiving about 2,000 a month from the Department of Health and Human Services, it said.

The agency said it “will prioritize testing based on evolving operational considerations,” without providing details.

As of Thursday, ICE had confirmed 490 virus cases among detainees since the outbreak began and had conducted 1,030 tests. ICE has nearly 30,000 people in immigration custody across the U.S.

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