Guatemala City, Guatemala – Migrant rights groups in Guatemala, the United States and beyond are calling on the White House to take a rights-based approach to migration ahead of US Vice President Kamala Harris next visit in Guatemala and Mexico.
U.S. President Joe Biden commissioned Harris directing diplomatic efforts in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to help curb migration to the country’s southern border after children and families arrived in large numbers earlier this year.
So far the Biden administration’s approach has focused on addressing thefundamental causes”Migration from Central America, but migration advocates say prioritizing the use of security forces and expulsions to block asylum seekers means continuing the years of failure of northern policies -American.
“The focus so far has been on militarization,” said Silvia Raquec, coordinator of the migration program for the Pop N’oj Association, a non-profit group focused on indigenous peoples.
“We need to focus on regularization mechanisms and the safety and protection of migrants,” he told Al Jazeera.
Harris is scheduled to arrive in Guatemala on Sunday afternoon, where he will meet Monday with President Alejandro Giammattei and other parties. He will then travel to Mexico, meeting with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday before returning home.
Migration and its root causes will be at the center of Harris ’agenda on his first official trip abroad, but officials are also expected to discuss private sector investment, aid and economic development. In Guatemala, talks will also focus on corruption.
Alianza Américas, a transnational network of 50 migrant-led organizations, and other regional and Guatemalan groups welcome Harris’ interest in addressing the structural causes of migration.
At a press conference Thursday in Guatemala City, they presented a series of recommendations on the rule of law, socio-economic conditions, multifaceted violence, climate justice and other issues that they believe need to be addressed.
End of use of Title 42 – A public health directive that allows the U.S. to immediately expel most migrants and asylum seekers to the border – is an urgent priority, said Abel Núñez, vice president of Alianza Americas and executive director of the Central American Resource Center of Washington, DC.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration began using Title 42 last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Biden has continued to use it to expel most migrants and asylum seekers to the border. . The policy prevents people from seeking asylum or accessing any other U.S. immigration procedure.
Title 42 expulsions in Nuevo Laredo, northern Mexico, are on the rise kidnappings and violence against migrants and asylum seekers, Human Rights First and other U.S. rights groups reported last month. “They use it as a wall. It’s a virtual wall, ”Nunez told Al Jazeera.
Blocking of asylum seekers
Biden has also continued the pressure of past US administrations on Mexico – and to a growing extent now also on Guatemala – to stop migrants and asylum seekers before they reach the US border.
“It is intensifying,” said Luis Garcia, director of the Center for Human Dignity, a migrant rights group based in Tapachula, southern Mexico.
Garcia told Al Jazeera that the Mexican and Guatemalan governments have increased massive deployments of police and military forces this year to ingratiate themselves with the new U.S. administration, which had promised to take a more “humane” approach to immigration than Trump.
Mexico continues to rely heavily on its National Guard for Immigration and Border Control, while during the pandemic, Guatemala has periodically deployed the military to stop Honduran and other migrants, officially for health reasons.
Migration slowed for months last year due to the pandemic blockade and border closure, but has since intensified. The devastation caused in November by hurricanes Eta i Iota it also propelled many people to flee, particularly from Honduras.
“Increasingly, the [US] the border is approaching, “Raquec of the Pop N’oj Association said.” Guatemala could also be a wall, and that’s worrying. “
New agreement between the US and Guatemala
Guatemalan officials have not released details of the meeting schedule during Harris’ visit this week, but a Guatemalan presidency spokeswoman told Al Jazeera that Guatemala’s interior and defense ministers would participate in the talks. conversations.
“The issue of migration and all aspects of social, economic and security have been permanently present in bilateral talks,” Patricia Letona said in a written statement when asked if there would be police or military deployments on the table. related to migration.
Since taking office in January 2020, Giammattei has made “a commitment to strengthen border security as a strategy to address transnational threats such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and as a preventive measure in the face of the pandemic,” Letona said. .
In this regard, US and Guatemalan officials signed a new cooperation agreement on Friday. The MOU between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Guatemalan Interior Ministry will establish a new police tactical unit. U.S. agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will also provide training, equipment, and technical assistance.
The new unit “will help improve border security” in the United States and Guatemala “by identifying and dismantling criminal organizations that benefit from human trafficking and smuggling, narcotics and smuggling,” the U.S. embassy released Friday night. United in Guatemala.
In a brief public statement that same day, Guatemala’s Interior Minister Gendri Reyes said the final deployment would be at the borders “to strengthen the whole issue of migrants.” A key transit country, Guatemala shares borders with Honduras, El Salvador, Belize and Mexico.
The Guatemalan Interior Ministry and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request to comment on the unit’s warrant in time for its release.
The same tactic
Migrant rights advocates say the push for police and military responses to migration shows that Biden has no intention of significantly changing his approach to Central American migration from previous U.S. administrations.
During the Obama administration, when Biden served as U.S. vice president, Guatemalan anti-trafficking working groups in border areas also received U.S. training and equipment, including armored jeeps. But in 2018 vehicles were deployed to intimidate an international anti-corruption commission, which led to the US suspend some military aid to Guatemala.
U.S. officials are increasingly talking about the root causes of migration, including corruption, but advocates say so far the words are different, but the actions are not.
“We have to acknowledge that the narrative has been a little different and we’re glad,” Núñez told Alianza Americas, but added that civil society groups in home countries, diaspora communities, and the U.S. should not of being appeased by speech.
Núñez said he plans more security-focused measures and more campaigns telling people not to migrate. But if the United States wants to recognize the root causes of migration, it has said it must recognize that systemic change is long-term and must provide protection and ways of regularization to people who have to flee in the meantime.
“We need to coordinate and keep up the pressure to make sure we get to a migration process that focuses on the migrant and protects their rights,” he told Al Jazeera. “Until we do that, the truth is it’s just a show.”