MIAMI -- The Guatemalan government has placed a cap on the number of people the U.S. can deport on a weekly basis, a spokesperson for the Central American country's government told the Miami Herald.
The new measures, which went into effect about three weeks ago, were launched because the country says it has continued to receive U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportees with coronavirus, said Ana Patricia Letona, a spokesperson for Guatemala's foreign ministry.
"Due to current restrictions and to not overrun the country's capacity, there are currently only two weekly flights with a total of 50 passengers each. This way, we can monitor and track each person before they are sent to their communities," Letona said, noting that the new measures are in stark contrast to how many deportees the country was accepting monthly before the pandemic, which was about 4,000.
In March that number went down to about 1,900, Letona said. As cases of COVID-19 continued to surge globally in April and May, and the number of deportees with COVID-19 being repatriated began to climb, the country began accepting about 700 a month. But now, Guatemalan officials are only accepting about 100 people a week, or about 400 a month.
The country's tight deportation restrictions have created an overwhelming backlog of Guatemalan nationals stuck in ICE detention who are waiting to be deported, according to detainees, immigration lawyers and advocates.
Edison Garcia del Cid is part of that growing group. The 20-year-old ICE detainee has been transferred at least 18 times in the past two months. Seven of those trips were to Miami and Georgia airports to be deported.
"Every time we get to the airport, the flight gets canceled," Garcia del Cid told the Herald over the phone from the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. "Me and so many Guatemalans have been ready; we are dying to get deported at this point. If not, we'll end up dying behind these bars instead."
He added: "I am in more danger in this prison than out there in Guatemala. Coronavirus is spreading rapidly and I'd rather take my chances and catch the virus in the open airs of Guatemala than in this crammed, dirty jail."
According to Letona, there are more than 5,000 Guatemalans in ICE custody, "making the wait list even longer."
"We know that we have a very large number of people who are waiting to be deported from ICE detention centers, and Guatemala is fully prepared to receive their nationals, just as long as they do not exceed the weekly ... capacity of 100 people that we have at this time," Letona said.