By SONIA PÉREZ D., Associated Press
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — U.S. immigration agents assigned to Guatemala to advise local authorities violated terms of their funding by helping officials deport Hondurans traveling in a migrant caravan early this year, the Democratic staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a report Tuesday.
On January 15, The Associated Press reported that one of its journalists saw four U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents manning a checkpoint with Guatemalan police officers near the eastern Guatemala town of Morales. The police were checking migrants’ documents and those without proper papers were driven back to the Honduran border.
Asked what they were doing there, one ICE agent said they were in Guatemala to train authorities in immigration control. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said at the time that Homeland Security personnel —ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection— were in Guatemala “providing advisory and capacity building support” to deal with irregular migration.
But according to Tuesday’s report, the U.S. agents rented three 12-passenger vans and hired drivers to shuttle Hondurans back to the border that day.
In Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei’s office, the Interior Ministry and the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the report.
“We’re opening our countries for them to come impose detention, deportation policies,” said Ursula Roldán, an immigration expert at Rafael Landívar University. “It’s serious.”
She said it demonstrated how Guatemala was using U.S. resources in a way that skirted scrutiny of Guatemala’s congress.
Under Guatemala’s international commitments, the government also had a responsibility to screen migrants in case any wanted to seek asylum. The staff report said Department of Homeland Security officials said they didn’t know if any of the Hondurans requested asylum in Guatemala.
The report said the “operation to transport Honduran migrants was conducted in an improvised manner without any protocols in place to address security considerations or ensure the personal safety and human rights of the migrants.”
The report said the Department of Homeland Security eventually acknowledged it had violated terms of an interagency agreement by using funding from the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs for the operation. The agreement had specified that “U.S. personnel under this agreement will not conduct immigration or law enforcement operations; they are in country for mentoring, advising and capacity-building purposes only.”
The report called for the inspectors general for both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the issue.
AP journalists following migrants attempting to cross Guatemala in large groups again earlier this month did not see U.S. agents with local police and soldiers who broke up the caravan.
Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.