April 16, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the ability of governments to manage human mobility in times of crisis. Sadly, the governments of the United States, Mexico and Central America have largely failed that test, betraying a shocking lack of humanity and willingness to ignore their own legal norms, as well as to violate international human rights accords. While many people can stay at home to limit transmission of the virus, millions of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in transit around the world do not have that luxury. Add to that the many who are detained, including unaccompanied children awaiting deportation, and the people who are trapped in a limbo of misery due to policies that block asylum, or stuck in a shelter or refugee camp on a border, hoping for the chance to request international protection. Many more are jailed in immigration detention, living the prolonged pain of deportation proceedings, or simply abandoned, when closed borders make deportation impossible.
Governments across the region have not grasped the simple reality that enforcing aggressive anti-migration policies in a time of pandemic will cause thousands of people to get infected, and puts everyone’s health at risk. Measures are urgently needed to help stop the spread of the virus, such as ending migration detention. Deportations should be immediately suspended, given the risks of infection both during the trip and after the person is returned to the home country. Rather than taking these common-sense measures, the United States continues the shameful practice of extorting and threatening its neighbors to accept deportees, knowingly over-burdening the already weak and fragile health systems in Central America.