Haydi Consuelo thought she had arrived in the promised land when she walked across the US-Mexico border into Texas with her two-year-old son and other Central American migrants.
She thought she would be given shelter but instead she was put on an airplane and sent back to Mexico, where she was shepherded onto a bus and driven to Guatemala without ever passing through a migration check point.
“It was a trick because we were given the impression we would be able to pass. And, suddenly … they put us in airplanes and … we were deported,” said Consuelo, 23, from the Migrant House in El Ceibo near the Mexican border, some 550 kilometers (340 miles) from Guatemala City.
Mexico is using this deserted border area to return migrants who have been deported to its territory from the United States.
Humanitarian organizations helping these migrants say that up to 600 a day are brought in from Mexico over the unguarded crossing.
Missionaries who run the Migrant House in El Ceibo are struggling to cope with the sudden influx.
In order to make space for new arrivals, migrants are allowed to spend just one night in the courtyard, surrounded by their suitcases, rucksacks and shoes.
“Hondurans, Nicaraguans, El Salvadorans are returning. There is a perverse strategy of hiding population groups, because we noticed that firstly the Guatemalans were brought and then in the last buses came Hondurans and Nicaraguans,” Leonel Dubon, executive director of the Refugio NGO, told AFP.
“It seems to be bad faith on the part of the Mexican government.”
In El Ceibo, there is no migration infrastructure or health measures to test new arrivals for Covid-19.
“The Guatemalan foreign affairs ministry has requested official information from Mexico and the United States about these migratory movements,” said the government of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, which was taken by surprise.
The government said it has two authorized deportation centers: one at the international airport in the capital, and another at a land border in Tecun Uman, some 300 kilometers southwest of Guatemala City.
The migrant crisis in Central America has worsened due to increased unemployment triggered by the pandemic.
After the hardline immigration policies of former president Donald Trump, Central Americans had hoped for a softening stance under the Joe Biden administration, but it has sent out a clear “stay away” message.
Ready to try again
Honduran teacher Gloria Amador Gutierrez, 32, left on July 30 with a group of around 20 migrants by land heading for the United States. On August 19 she was deported to Guatemala.
Amongst those being deported there are “also lawyers, graduates. There’s no work and we decided to fight for our children and to give them a better education by going abroad,” said Gutierrez, who vowed to regroup in Honduras before trying again.
“We have family members in the US that are still waiting for us.”
“Everything was going well when we arrived in Guatemala, but it was a different story when we reached Mexico,” said Onan Gutierrez, 32, a cousin of Gloria’s who was traveling with his daughter.
“It’s really not easy pursuing the American dream. We were 15 minutes from achieving our objective but they caught us out in the open,” he added, saying he was not sure if he would try again.
Guatemalan farmer Jose Jimenez crossed into the US with his son but was caught and deported.
He had saved up $1,300 and borrowed another $5,5000 to pay people traffickers, known as “coyotes,” for his passage into the US. He lost everything.
“The coyotes tell you the passage into the US is open and all they do is demand money to cross the river into the US while threatening to kill you,” said Jimenez.
“If you don’t pay, they hand you over to the mafia and the deal is done.”
He will not try again.
“It’s tough, we all suffer, most of all the children,” he said.