Tuesday 27 September 2022

Central American migrants: The tragedy in the midst of the pandemic

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Those who stayed face a precarious reality, with job losses, overcrowding, without access to medical. Those who return, deported, were in many cases exposed to contagion risks in prisons, detention centers and on the journey back.

A migrant deported from the United States wears a preventive mask against the coronavirus COVID-19 after landing at the Military Base in Guatemala City. (Photo Johan ORDONEZ / AFP)

The Donald Trump administration has been – in fact – exporting COVID-19 to Latin America by continuing to send flights with deported migrants to 11 countries in the region, the Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank reported.

Between March and April, ICE Air has carried out at least 21 flights with deportees to Guatemala, 18 to Honduras, 12 to El Salvador, 6 to Brazil, 3 to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic; and 1 flight each to Colombia and Jamaica. This, denounced the organization, represents a serious risk to the public health of these nations since it has been proven that many of them are infected.

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“At the end of April, there were around 1,000 Salvadorans deported from the United States, in the midst of the health crisis, who have been transferred to quarantine centers for a period of 30 days, said César Ríos, the agency’s executive director. Non-governmental Salvadoran Migrant Institute (Insami).

From Guatemala, Ursula Roldán, director of the Institute for Global and Territorial Dynamic Processes and Research of the Rafael Landívar University, and member of the Jesuit Network of Migrants for Mexico, Central America and the United States, spoke in favor of stopping deportations from the United States, since they represent a serious risk to public health, as they are not certain of their health condition.

She added that, upon arrival in the country, health authorities place them in quarantine centers that test positive for COVID-19. Others are sent to home quarantine, in their own communities.

“We also criticize that decision because overcrowding prevails in rural communities. Instead, we proposed that quarantine centers be established for 21 days, to serve as shelters, and then transferred to their communities. We continue to insist with the government,” said Roldán.

136 Honduran migrants descend from a plane at the Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa on April 25, 2020 after having been deported from Mexico (Photo ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP)

Deported … And Many Infected

Most flights of deported migrants, according to research by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, depart from two airports: Brownsville, Texas and Alexandria, Louisiana. The latter has been severely hit by COVID-19, as at least 11 employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Precisely from these facilities, they assure left the Guatemalan deportees (40), who arrived in their country and tested positive. According to a Guatemalan local media, the Minister of Health, Hugo Monroy, assured that in a single flight it was detected that 75% of the deportees were infected with the new coronavirus.

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In his speech on April 28, the President of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, confirmed in a message on the national network that 81 citizens of his country infected with coronaviruses were reported in the world and 49 died outside their homeland. Of these, 48 in the United States.

Dozens of Guatemalan citizens stranded abroad are struggling to return to their homeland.

The Migrants Who Stay

For those who remain in the United States, the reality is being equally critical due to their vulnerability, in financial and health terms. The effect of unemployment on them will be severe. It is anticipated that in some sectors the loss of jobs will be enormous, in a range of 30% to 80%, since their liquid assets are limited, at most to stay six months, and unfortunately the most affected sectors will be services and industry, where the majority of the Central American migrant population works,” said Manuel Orozco, a specialist in Migration and Remittances issues at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

The New York Times exposed the tragedy experienced by migrants of different nationalities in New York, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States. In a comprehensive report, focused primarily on central Queens, it confirmed that the pandemic has undeniably disproportionately affected Latino workers, restaurant employees, and janitors, accounting for 34% of those killed in New York, the highest percentage of any racial or ethnic group.

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For its part, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rector of health in the United States, confirmed in its report last April 29 that – at that date – the number of positive cases of coronavirus exceeded one million people in that country, and of these, about 96,681 are of Hispanic / Latino origin.

“The main countries of Salvadoran migration are Italy, Spain, Canada and the United States, precisely those most affected by the pandemic. And, when reviewing the United States, where there are around 2 million Salvadorans, we can also see that the main cities where they reside have been the most impacted: New York, Maryland, Washington DC., California, Los Angeles and Houston,” said Rios.

Central American migrants are a very vulnerable sector to the COVID-19 pandemic, since the majority remain in the United States in an irregular migratory situation – illegally, they do not have work contracts, they do not have medical insurance, they do not visit medical centers. for fear of being deported and are not benefiting from unemployment benefit programs.

In addition, he pointed out that studies have confirmed that 60% of Salvadorans live in the United States with an annual budget of US$25,000, a figure that in that country considered as extreme poverty.

“In order to survive in the United States, they themselves have created survival strategies, for example, sharing the rent payment for a $2,000 monthly apartment among 12 or 13 people, living in overcrowding,” said the Salvadoran expert.

Therefore, they are living at high levels of vulnerability.

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