Lake Atitlan in Guatemala was once known throughout the world for its pristine waters. Fishermen made a living from the lake, and tourists funneled much-needed money into the nearby communities. But all that has changed.
Over the last several years, Lake Atitlan has slowly become polluted by sewage, agricultural waste, and toxic bacteria.
The once-clear waters of Lake Atitlan are now filled with contaminants like E.coli and a toxic blue-green algae called cyanobacteria, which can affect the kidneys, liver, and central nervous system. These pose serious problems for the indigenous population that depend on the lake for food, water, and their livelihood. To make matters worse, the only water treatment plant for the lake was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Stan and the local government has not made it a priority to help the indigenous Mayan population living off the lake.
Enter Francesca Kennedy, whose family is originally from Guatemala.
As a child, Kennedy spent summers visiting Panajachel, Guatemala. She was baptized in Lake Atitlan. However, in 2010, when she was visiting her grandfather, Kennedy noticed the poor condition of the lake, and worse, she saw children collecting the water to drink. When locals told Kennedy how the quality of the lake had adversely affected the economy, she decided to use her entrepreneurial know-how to help the community.
Kennedy created I.X. Style and began selling handmade huaraches, bags, and jewelry through several well-known retail establishments.
The company, which was named after the Mayan word for “water,” employs about 800 female Mayan artisans from Guatemala. It donates 15 percent of its sales to organizations devoted to improving the quality of the lake’s water and the lives of those who depend on it.
The company, which started with very little money, now sees sales in excess of $500K.
Although the Coronavirus pandemic poses special risks to migrants who are returned to their countries – as well as the communities they’re put back into – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to deport migrants by the thousands.
There have been several reports of deportees spreading Covid-19 back in their communities after being removed from the U.S., which makes sense considering the U.S. is leading the world in Covid-19 infections.
However, ICE has admitted that they made a mistake with one recent deportation, when they removed a man who was legally awaiting his asylum process.
A Guatemalan man was wrongfully deported and ICE admits it was their mistake.
A 29-year-old Guatemalan man seeking asylum in the U.S. was mistakenly deported by authorities despite the lack of a deportation order – and worse, before he even had his first appointment in immigration court.
César Marroquín was deported August 19 – the same day he he was supposed to appear for the first time before an immigration judge. Instead, he was sent back to Guatemala – with dozens of other deportees – the country from which he fled after being the victim of aggression and kidnapping, according to his account.
“They told me that if I didn’t get on the plane, I’d be charged,” Marroquín told Noticias Telemundo. “There was some mistake with me in the system.”
His current attorney, Marty Rosenbluth, believes it is a flagrant error. “I’ve seen quite a few cases of people who were deported in error. I’ve never seen one quite like this where they were deported even before their first hearing, “ he told NBC News.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, said in a statement that Marroquín’s deportation was due to an “administrative error” while his case was still open.
Despite their mistake, Marroquín remains in Guatemala.
Although the mistake lay completely with U.S. ICE agents, Marroquín remains in his native Guatemala at risk of further persecution.
According to Marroquín’s official complaint filed in Guatemala, he said he suffered political persecution and physical violence after he supported a local politician and turned down a request to work with a rival one. After that, he said he was threatened and his home was damaged and raided; he also suspects someone tampered with his car. Marroquín said he was then kidnapped at gunpoint, tortured for several days and then left on the side of the road. He decided to leave the country after that and sought asylum protections in the United States.
The authorities and Marroquín’s attorney are now working on his readmission to the United States.
“This type of gross negligence is completely inexcusable,” said Rosenbluth, his current attorney. “The law is very, very clear that they can’t deport someone in the middle of their immigration court proceedings. They’re just not allowed to do it.”
Of course, not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time the immigration agency has made a mistake in deportations.
In 2018, ICE made a similar mistake with an undocumented inmate at a New Hampshire jail. ICE agents violated an appeals court order and deported the man back to El Salvador, where he lost 60 pounds and was subject to starvation, beatings, and overcrowding, according to the American Civil Liberties Union-New Hampshire, which represents the man.
“This is a very serious matter to us,” said Scott Grant Stewart, a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, who appeared before a three-judge panel to explain the error. “We’re sorry for the violation of the court’s order. This was inadvertent. We do acknowledge the error.”
In fact, there are thousands of documented cases of U.S. citizens being deported by ICE.
According to a Northwestern University political scientist, Jacqueline Stevens, more than 1,500 U.S. citizens have spent time in immigration detention or even been deported between 2007 and 2015. More recent examples abound of the U.S. government detaining citizens after falsely accusing them of breaking immigration laws.
ICE authorities reportedly detained for three days Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a veteran born in Grand Rapids, Michigan who served with the Marines in Afghanistan, in 2018 because the agency did not believe he was born here.
ICE also detained for more than three weeks a man named Peter Brown who was born in Philadelphia and lived in the Florida Keys in 2018 because the agency confused him with an undocumented Jamaican immigrant – who was also named Peter Brown.
In 2007, the government settled a lawsuit arising from ICE’s detention of 6-year-old Kebin Reyes. ICE detained the California-born child for 10 hours when it picked up his undocumented father, even though his father immediately handed the authorities Reyes’ U.S. passport to prove the boy’s citizenship. And Justice Department records obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicate that a 10-year-old boy from San Francisco was mistakenly held in immigration detention in Texas for two months, according to his lawyer.
The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t reduced violence or poverty or many of the other reasons that people flee their homes in an attempt to reach the United States. In fact, in many places violence and poverty are at record levels as the virus leaves millions of people without work, access to medical care, or education.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that even though the Coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious health threat, thousands of Central Americans banded together in another caravan. However, this time it barely made it out of Honduras before being forced back by Guatemalan security forces.
The country has completely changed its approach to how it handles these ‘migrant caravans.’ Previously, the country had allowed many of them safe passage. However, under pressure from the Trump administration, the country’s president has decided a heavy-handed approach is better.
Under pressure from Donald Trump, Guatemala halted more than 3,000 migrants set for the U.S.
As a caravan containing roughly 3,500 Honduran migrants attempted to cross into Guatemala on their path to the United States, Guatemala halted their progress and ordered their removal from the country. This was a starch contrast to the migrant caravans of year past as many were allowed to seek asylum or even cross Guatemala’s border with Mexico.
In a televised message, Giammattei said Guatemalan security forces were able to “contain” the caravan, that according to the president was a factor in the transmission of the Coronavirus.
According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the caravan entered eastern Guatemala on Thursday, pushing over a military barrier setup along the border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which had already closed its borders in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.
By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military personnel set up roadblocks forcing migrants — including young children and people in wheelchairs — to turn back.
Guatemala’s president said the containment efforts were to protect the country from further Coronavirus infections.
Shortly after the caravan entered Guatemala by foot and overwhelming the border security forces, the country’s president – Alejandro Giammattei – vowed to send them back to Honduras, citing his efforts to contain the pandemic.
“The order has been given to detain all those who entered illegally, and return them to the border of their country,” Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation. “We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us and put us at serious risk.”
Giammattei issued an order that would suspend some constitutional rights in the provinces they were expected to pass through, apparently in order to facilitate detaining them.
“We are experiencing a pandemic in Guatemala which has cost us to control with months of efforts,” said the president, adding it was an “obligation” to reduce the risk of further contagion.
At the onset of the pandemic, Guatemala instituted a strict lockdown of the country, even closing its airports and borders to all travel. So far, the country of about 17 million has seen more than 94,000 Covid-19 infections and 3,293 people have died since March.
These so-called caravans have become more common in recent years as migrants band together for protection.
In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants traveling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the U.S. border. In the U.S., these caravans have become a hot-button issue for political conservatives, including President Trump.
During the 2018 caravan that occurred close to the midterm elections, Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs and economic pain if the country didn’t do more to stop the caravans before they reached the U.S. – Mexico border. The country bowed to Trump’s demands and deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents to break up attempted caravans last year. They dispersed large groups of migrants attempting to travel together in southern Mexico.
The odds of a large migrant caravan reaching the U.S. border, already low, have grown increasingly slim over the past year. In fact, crossing into the U.S. legally is virtually impossible now thanks to inhumane policies implemented by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, attempting an unauthorized crossing into the U.S. is as difficult as ever.