Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Guatemala Suspends Deportations From U.S. After 70 Test Positive For Coronavirus


More than 70 people who were deported from the U.S. to Guatemala in the past month have tested positive for coronavirus. The Trump administration has sent a team from the CDC to review those tests, and Guatemala says it has suspended indefinitely deportations from the United States. Joining us now is Molly O'Toole. She reports on immigration for the Los Angeles Times. Molly, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MOLLY O'TOOLE: Thanks very much.

KELLY: OK, so 70-some cases on two flights from the U.S. - what other details do we have about these flights and how this happened?

O'TOOLE: Well, one flight - the first one was from March - on March 26 from Mesa, Ariz. It had about 41 Guatemalans, including about 10 kids. And so far, they believe about 75% of that flight ended up testing positive for coronavirus. And then the second flight was just on Monday, and officials told the Associated Press that about 60% of that flight, about 44 people out of 76 - and that came from Brownsville, Texas - have tested positive for coronavirus. And the Guatemalan government for some time has been afraid of this exact scenario - that the U,S. could be potentially exporting coronavirus to Guatemala, which has been relatively unaffected so far. There's about 215 confirmed cases, which means that between these two flights alone, I mean, that's about 35% of the confirmed cases in the entire country.

KELLY: Wow. Yeah. So the CDC team that has been dispatched, what exactly are they going to do?

O'TOOLE: So the interesting thing is that ICE has established health protocol for these deportation flights and actually sort of stepped up that health protocol because the Guatemalans have sort of stopped and started flights a few times, accepting deportations from the U.S. because of these health concerns. But all that they do is screen for obvious symptoms and take people's temperatures. They do not test for coronavirus as opposed to the Guatemalans who've been testing people when they get back. So it's very interesting that the U.S. has decided to send the CDC team to test the results that the Guatemalans are seeing given that the U.S. itself is not testing deportees before it sends them to Guatemala.

KELLY: Before putting them on a plane, yeah.

O'TOOLE: But the Guatemalans have also welcomed this because they essentially want to show the U.S. officials, look; this is how bad it is, and potentially consider, you know, potentially stopping the flights altogether.

KELLY: Well, now this prompts the question of, how many detained immigrants who are here in the U.S. might be sick? ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says there are 105 - 1-0-5 - confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detained immigrants. That's throughout the U.S. If Guatemala is saying there were more than 70 on these two flights alone, how do we square those two numbers?

O'TOOLE: Well, that's the concern because also, ICE is not doing widespread testing in immigration custody. There's about 32,000 migrants in ICE custody right now, which is actually just about the lowest level under the Trump administration. But they're not doing widespread testing, so these reports coming out of Guatemala about deportees not only indicate a far higher number in Guatemala than the government has acknowledged but a far higher number in immigration detention in the United States because this testing isn't occurring. So they only have 100 confirmed cases, but they're not doing widespread testing, so the number could be much higher.

KELLY: Right - one of many, many questions surrounding testing these days in the United States and beyond. That is Molly O'Toole, a reporter with The LA Times. Thank you very much for your reporting.

O'TOOLE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM MISCH'S "THE JOURNEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.