The Guatemalan government on Tuesday temporarily blocked the U.S. from bringing deported asylum-seekers to the Central American country as part of its bilateral agreement with the Trump administration.
U.S. immigration officials had been sending hundreds of asylum-seekers from Honduras and El Salvador to Guatemala since last fall under a “safe third-country” agreement.
But Guatemala's foreign ministry announced it had suspended the U.S. flights to give its government time to establish sanitary protocols that would allow these asylum-seekers to safely return to their places of origin. The foreign ministry also said in a news release on its website that it had blocked U.S. flights of Guatemalan deportees.
The announcement comes a day after Guatemala banned U.S. flights and closed its borders to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Neither U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement nor the Department of Homeland Security responded to CQ Roll Call requests Tuesday for comment.
It was unclear where the Trump administration will place asylum-seekers it planned to send to Guatemala. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told congressional lawmakers at a recent hearing that at least 1,000 asylum-seekers have been sent to Guatemala under the accord formally known as the Asylum Cooperative Agreement.
Guatemala's suspension of the agreement puts a wrench in the Trump administration's efforts to mitigate the number seeking U.S. entry and asylum. The accord had allowed migrants from certain Central American countries seeking asylum in the U.S. to be sent to Guatemala to seek asylum there instead. The agreement was signed by the Guatemalan government and the Trump administration last year.
Advocacy groups have assailed the ACA agreement with Guatemala, arguing that the Central American country does not have the capacity to handle the incoming asylum-seekers. In January, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigrant Justice Center and other advocacy groups sued the federal government in an attempt to halt the asylum agreement.
Immigration experts predict this announcement may complicate how U.S. immigration officials deal with asylum-seekers.
“The only option that I see is for the Trump administration to send them to Mexico, and Mexico does not have the capacity to provide healthy conditions to people from other countries," Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a George Mason University professor who studies border security and U.S.-Mexico relations, told CQ Roll Call.
Tanvi Misra contributed to this report.