- In January, US agents in Guatemala packed Honduran migrants into unmarked vans, transporting them back to Honduras.
- Under an agreement between the US and Guatemala, migrants are supposed to be able to apply for asylum in the US from Guatemalan soil.
- "DHS treats the US border as if it extends south to Guatemala and that it has the authority to police and deport migrants on foreign soil," Daniella Burgi-Palomino, co-director of the Latin American Working group in Washington, DC, said in a statement.
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Honduran migrants were picked up by US agents and shoved in unmarked vans — not in the United States, but in Central America, an act of "complete disregard for US and international law," dozens of civil society organizations charged in a letter on Thursday.
Earlier this month, Senate Democrats released a report detailing a January 2020 incident in Guatemala where agents with US Customs and Border Protection transported a caravan of asylum-seekers in three 12-person vans back to the border with Honduras. In doing so, US Sen. Bob Menendez said, they acted "as un-deputized international migration police," misleading their own counterparts in the State Department and potentially exposing the US to legal action.
In 2019, DHS deployed dozens of agents in Guatemala, ostensibly to train local police in an effort to thwart migrants fleeing poverty and violence in the Americas. Under an agreement between the governments of the US and Guatemala, asylum-seekers, such as those from Honduras, are supposed to be able to apply for legal status from Guatemalan soil.
In January, hundreds were deported back to a country where the US State Department says violent crime is "common" and violent gang activity "widespread."
"DHS treats the US border as if it extends south to Guatemala and that it has the authority to police and deport migrants on foreign soil," Daniella Burgi-Palomino, co-director of the Latin American Working group in Washington, DC, said in a statement. "It is unconscionable that DHS may have separated even more families and returned Hondurans fleeing persecution back to danger in this reckless operation."
Dozens of civil society groups agree, demanding an "immediate investigation" by the US State Department and DHS inspectors general.
"[W]e condemn this latest incident as one more example of how DHS has overstepped its mandate in Central America," the groups, including Amnesty International, Save the Children, and Oxfam America, said in a letter.
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.
"DHS' actions place the lives of women, men, and children in danger," the groups — including nonprofits in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras — said, attributing the behavior to US immigration authorities "empowered and left unchecked" by the Trump administration.
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