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Senate: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Conducted “Unauthorized” Operations in Guatemala

— October 16, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security and CBP allegedly conducted operations without so much as informing the State Department.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has alleged that U.S. officials in Guatemala illegally misused funds to conduct operations against Central American migrants.

According to The Hill, the Committee’s Democratic minority claims that Customs and Border Protection officials—stationed in Guatemala as advisors—misappropriated State Department funds to “carry out an unauthorized operation.”

“Specifically, CBP personnel in Guatemala transported an unidentified number of Honduran migrants in unmarked vans to relocate them to the Guatemala-Honduras border,” the Committee wrote in an official report.

The Hill suggests that the incident, which occurred in January, highlights both the extent to which U.S. immigration policy is enforced outside of the country’s own borders, and a growing rift between the State Department and Department of Homeland Security, the latter of which administers and oversees the CBP.

While the State Department has traditionally overseen the United States’ diplomatic initiatives abroad, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf purportedly held a closed-door meeting with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in January.

Map of Central America. Honduras is located north of Nicaragua and next to Guatemala and El Salvador. Image via Cacahuate/Wikimedia Commons. (CCA-BY-[4.0, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0]).
During that meeting, Wolf discussed immigration cooperation with Guatemala. He then told FOX News, in a public interview, that the United States has “CBP agents—tactical agents—in Guatemala.”

However, it appears that Wolf, the DHS, and CBP did not inform the State Department of their unilateral attempts at diplomacy.

The Senate report notes that the State Department “misinformed” Foreign Relations committee investigators in late January, with agency officials claiming that U.S. agents “did not participate in the action of bussing Honduran migrants from Guatemala.”

“However, as would soon become apparent, DHS had lied to the State Department in order to cover up its role in the joint operations with Guatemalan authorities,” the report states.

Shortly thereafter, both the State Department and Department of Homeland Security told investigators that the actions taken by CBP officials violated the terms of agreement between both agencies.

Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the apparent miscommunication—and distrust—between government bureaucracies evidences the extent to which President Trump’s anti-immigration agenda has wreaked havoc on domestic order and foreign policy alike.

“This explosive report is a painful reminder of how President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda has overtaken every aspect of this administration’s work,” Sen. Menendez said.

The Hill notes that the direct participation of U.S. officials in Guatemala’s immigration enforcement program could pose a violation of international law.

Furthermore, because the operation was conducted outside the United States’ jurisdiction, there is no way to know whether the bussing incident led to family separations or the denial of guaranteed asylum rights.

Naturally, news of unauthorized U.S. involvement has angered immigration and human rights advocates. Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, an attorney with the American Immigration Counsel, told Qatar-based al-Jazeera that the Senate’s report underscores the ways in which the Trump administration is changing priorities abroad.

“This report emphasizes the ways that Customs and Border Protection has usurped the roles of the State Department in Central America,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

“What this shows is that CBP is intent on controlling all migration-related diplomacy in the region, regardless of what the State Department believes is helpful for U.S. diplomatic relations,” he added. “And that the CBP is willing to violate agreements with the State Department and expose the U.S. government to potentially serious legal consequences in order to establish its strength in the region and accomplish its goal of preventing Central Americans from travelling to the United States.”

Former Guatemala government officials have also condemned the United States’ interference in the former’s domestic affairs.

“This is an usurpation of functions of Guatemalan authorities in terms of migration,” said Carlos Menocal, who used to head Guatemala’s Ministry of the Interior.

“This action violates international treaties, agreements between [Central American] states, and, particularly, illegal operations that were committed by institutions from the United States,” he added. “From my understanding, there is no international treaty that permits another country to involve themselves in local immigration issues. This was an illegal action that violates international agreements.”


Guatemala to verify report on US agents ‘unauthorised’ operation

US agents in Guatemala detained Honduran migrants in unauthorized operation: Senate report

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