Guatemalan leaders have blocked the U.S. from deporting asylum seekers back to their country, according to Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It is still unclear when the deportations, which are handled by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement under the Department of Homeland Security, will resume.
Neither U.S. agency responded to emails from the Miami Herald on Tuesday.
Guatemalan officials said in a statement that the move was made “as a precautionary measure” to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The move comes one day after the Guatemalan president announced the country’s borders would be closed for at least two weeks. As of Monday, Guatemala confirmed it has half a dozen COVID-19 cases.
About 1,000 Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers have been sent to Guatemala from the United States under a “safe third country” agreement, also known as an Asylum Cooperative Agreement, since last December.
That deal allows the U.S. to deport asylum seekers to Guatemala, where they were initially given the chance to apply for refuge.
Despite Guatemala’s refusal to allow Central American asylum seekers to return from the U.S., it’s still possible that U.S. immigration officials may send the immigrants to Mexico. ICE did not respond to emails from the Miami Herald on whether that will be their course of action.
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This story was originally published March 17, 2020 4:09 PM.