Human rights groups urge to place immigration protection at the core of U.S. policy

Guatemala City, Guatemala Immigrant rights organizations in Guatemala, the U.S. and elsewhere call on the White House to adopt a rights-based approach to immigration before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ decision Coming soon Guatemala and Mexico.

U.S. President Joe Biden instructs Harris Leading diplomatic efforts After children and families arrived in large numbers earlier this year, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras helped stop immigration to the country’s southern border.

So far, the focus of the Biden administration has been to resolve “root cause“But immigration advocates say that the priority use of security forces and deportations to deter asylum seekers means that the United States’ policy of failure for many years continues.

“So far, the focus has been militarization,” said Silvia Raquec, immigration project coordinator of the Pop N’oj Association, a non-profit organization focused on indigenous people in Guatemala.

“The focus needs to be on the formalization mechanism and the safety and protection of migrants,” she told Al Jazeera.

Harris’s trip

Harris is scheduled to arrive in Guatemala later on Sunday, where she will meet with President Alejandro Giammattei and other parties there on Monday. She will then travel to Mexico, meet with President Andres Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday, and go home.

Immigration and its root causes will be at the core of Harris’s first official visit abroad, but officials are also expected to discuss private sector investment, aid and economic development. In Guatemala, the talks will also focus on corruption.

Alianza Americas, a transnational network of 50 immigrant-led organizations, as well as other regional and Guatemalan groups, welcomes Harris’ interest in addressing the structural root causes of immigrants.

At a press conference in Guatemala City on Thursday, they put forward a series of suggestions on the rule of law, socioeconomic conditions, multifaceted violence, climate justice, and other issues they felt needed to be resolved.

Harrison will meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (right) and Guatemalan President Alejandro Gamatai this week [File: Mexico’s Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

Termination of use Heading 42 Abel Nunez, vice president of Alianza Americas and executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Washington, DC, said that a public health directive that allows the United States to immediately expel most immigrants and asylum seekers at the border is an urgent priority.

The administration of former President Donald Trump started using Title 42 last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biden continues to use it to deport most immigrants and asylum seekers at the border. This policy prevents people from applying for asylum or entering any other U.S. immigration process.

Title 42 The number of people deported to New Laredo in northern Mexico is increasing Kidnapping and violence Last month, Human Rights First and other US-based human rights organizations reported on immigrants and asylum seekers. “They treat it as a wall. This is a virtual wall,” Nunez told Al Jazeera.

Deter asylum seekers

Biden has also continued past pressure from the US government on Mexico — now more and more in Guatemala — to stop immigrants and asylum seekers before they reach the US border.

“This situation is getting worse,” said Luis Garcia, director of the Center for Human Dignity, an immigrant rights organization in Tapachula, southern Mexico.

Garcia told Al Jazeera that the governments of Mexico and Guatemala have strengthened Large-scale deployment The police and military of the United States have been pleased with the new US government this year, which promised to adopt a more “humane” approach to immigrants than Trump.

The Mexican National Guard marched after the country announced its intensified deployment at the Guatemala border to stop the flow of migrants to the United States [File: Jose Torres/Reuters]

Mexico continues to rely heavily on its National Guard for immigration and border enforcement, and during the pandemic, Guatemala has regularly deployed troops to formally stop Honduras and other immigrants on health grounds.

Due to the pandemic blockade and border closures, the number of immigrants slowed for a few months last year, but has since rebounded.The damage caused in November Hurricanes Eta and Iota It also prompted many people to flee, especially Honduras.

“More and more [US] The border is getting closer,” said Raquec of the Pop N’oj Association. “Guatemala may also be a wall, which is worrying. “

New agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala

During the visit in Ha Lisbon’s week, Guatemalan officials did not announce the details of the meeting schedule, but a spokesman for the Presidential Palace of Guatemala told Al Jazeera that the Minister of Interior and Defense of Guatemala will participate in the meeting.

“Immigration issues and all social, economic and security issues have always existed in bilateral dialogues,” Patricia Letona said in a written statement, when asked whether they would discuss issues with immigration When the relevant police or military are deployed.

Letona said that since taking office in January 2020, Gamatai has “committed to strengthening border security as a strategy to respond to transnational threats such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as preventive measures against pandemics.”

To this end, US and Guatemalan officials signed a new cooperation agreement on Friday. The memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Guatemala Department of the Interior will establish a new police tactical unit. US agencies including the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will also provide training, equipment and technical assistance.

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said on Twitter on Friday evening that the new department will “identify and dissolve criminal organizations that profit from trafficking in human beings, drug smuggling, and contraband”, “to improve the border security between the U.S. and Guatemala. contribution”.

In a brief public statement on the same day, Guatemala’s Interior Minister Gendri Reyes stated that the final deployment will be the border “to strengthen the entire immigration issue.” Guatemala is an important transit country, bordering Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Mexico.

The Guatemalan Department of the Interior and the US Department of Homeland Security did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the department’s mission in a timely manner.

The same tactics

Immigration rights advocates said that pushing the police and the military to respond to immigration shows that Biden does not intend to significantly change his attitude towards Central American immigrants from the position of previous US administrations.

During the Obama administration and Biden’s tenure as Vice President of the United States, the Guatemala Anti-Smuggling Task Force in the Border Area also received training and equipment from the United States, including armored jeeps.But in 2018, these vehicles were used to intimidate an international anti-corruption commission, which led to the time out Some military assistance to Guatemala.

U.S. officials are increasingly talking about the root causes of immigration, including corruption, but advocates say that so far, the words have been different but the actions have not been.

Last month, families from Central America were sitting on the side of the road waiting to be transported to the U.S. Border Patrol processing facility in La Jolla, Texas [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

Alianza Americas’ Nunez said: “We do have to realize that the narrative is a bit different and we are happy,” but he added that the country of origin, the diaspora community, and civil society groups in the United States should not be appeased by discourse.

Nunez said he expects more security-focused measures and more campaigns to tell people not to move. But if the United States really wants to recognize the root causes of immigration, he said it must recognize that systemic changes are long-term, and provide protection and regularization for those who need to flee at the same time.

“We need to coordinate and continue to apply pressure to ensure that we reach an immigration process that centers on immigrants and protects their rights,” he told Al Jazeera. “Before we did this, the truth was that it was just a show.”

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About the Author: Agnes Zang