At least 44 migrants who were on the same deportation flight from the US to Guatemala this week have tested positive for Covid-19, two Guatemalan government sources told CNN.
The migrants flew to Guatemala on an April 13 flight from Brownsville, Texas, the sources said.
Immigrant and human rights advocates have been warning for weeks that deportation flights from the United States, the country with the largest number of known coronavirus cases, could hasten the spread of the virus in other nations.
Some who favor restricting immigration in the United States have suggested accelerating the pace of deportation flights in response to concerns about the virus spreading in ICE detention facilities.
During a live televised address Thursday night, Guatemala’s presidential spokesman Carlos Sandoval said both countries were working closely “to revalidate the health status of Guatemalans returned in recent days,” adding that Covid-19 tests “would be carried out again on the cases that tested positive and also on the people who tested negative” in both countries.
An ICE spokesperson told CNN Thursday that “the health and welfare of detainees in ICE custody is of the highest priority to the agency. ICE closely follows (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance as a standard practice and particularly in response to the changing dynamic of this global pandemic. Currently, CDC is on the ground in Guatemala to review and validate the Covid-19 tests performed on those arriving from ICE Air flights. Once results are available, ICE will determine whether to re-evaluate current medical procedures with CDC guidance to ensure that any newly necessary practices are implemented.”
According to its website regarding Covid-19, ICE conducts, “a visual screening consistent with current ICE policy and procedures on those detained lacking medical summary information (new apprehensions) who are delivered to the aircraft. Those detainees who are not ‘new apprehensions’ are brought to the aircraft with medical clearance.”
The guidance goes on to say, “any ICE detainee who fails to pass screening by a flight medical provider and/or is suspected of having a health-risk condition potentially contagious to other detainees, staff and/or third parties, will be denied boarding and referred to an ICE approved facility for screening.”
ICE further notes that a temperature test is conducted before boarding the aircraft. “In accordance with (ICE Health Service Corps) guidance, any detainee with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be immediately referred to a medical provider for further evaluation and observation,” they said.
Joaquín Samayoa, a spokesman for Guatemala’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, told a WhatsApp media group Thursday that flights will be suspended between Guatemala and the United States until further notice. He said the decision was agreed upon by both countries.
From CNNE’s Michelle Mendoza in Guatemala City, CNN’s Natalie Gallón in Mexico City and Priscilla Alvarez in DC. CNN’s Abel Alvarado and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.