As Title 42 was set to expire and exacerbate chaos on the US-Mexico border, the leader of one of America’s key partners was out of step with the Biden administration. Instead, he was calling on lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — in Congress.
At issue was whether Guatemala could take in migrants by targeting the US-Mexico border, part of the Department of Homeland Security’s response amid pandemic-era policy that allowed the US to deport quickly the migrants ends.
But Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei’s pleas to lawmakers have given Republicans new fodder to smear Biden over his immigration policies.
“Yesterday the president of Guatemala called me and he said, ‘Tony, I can’t reach anyone in the administration,'” Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, said., which is more than 800 miles from the Texas-Mexico border, the El Paso Times and USA TODAY told a May 3 conversation.
Guatemala’s ambassador to the United States was more tempered, saying the president had spoken to 10 lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats. He declined to identify them by name. He confirmed a conversation with Gonzales.
A U.S. official on Thursday evening denied claims there was no communication between the two governments, saying the Biden administration had “regular communications with the Guatemalan government at all levels, including the president.” and that the two presidents “have spoken on numerous occasions”.
“We are in a very good position with Guatemala on regional processing centers,” the US official said. “The plan is to start with Guatemalan nationals.”
Another U.S. official familiar with the plan told USA TODAY that Guatemala’s foreign minister had previously agreed “in principle” to help with the treatment centers, but his government had follow-up questions about implementation. that needed to be resolved.
Alfonso Quinonez, the Guatemalan ambassador, said Giammattei did not ask for anything but asked for their support to help Guatemala stop illegal migration through the country. Assistance would include surveillance technology, transport vehicles, as well as food and shelter for police and military personnel.
“He let them know what we were doing” as Title 42 comes to an end, Quinonez said. “We have the political will to stop irregular migration – we have limited resources.”
As of Thursday, the country’s foreign ministry had still not publicly confirmed whether it would collaborate with the Biden administration’s plan, Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported.
THE divide between Biden and Giammattei, and the subsequent rapprochement with the GOP took two years to prepare.
Under the Biden administration, the US government has strongly criticized the weakening of anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala under Giammattei. US authorities revoked the visa of the country’s last top prosecutor after around two dozen prosecutors, judges and magistrates fled into exile fearing government prosecution for their anti-corruption crusades.
Last year, Giammattei’s government signed a nearly $1 million contract with a major supporter of former President Donald Trump to allegedly seek influence with US officials, foreign lobby records show. .
Guatemala, struggling with extreme poverty, has historically seen tens of thousands of its citizens migrate to the United States each year. But with thousands of other migrants now coming from South America and countries outside the Western Hemisphere, Guatemala found itself the penultimate stop, before Mexico, on an important route of smuggling north.
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Republicans said the Guatemalan president painted a dire picture.
Gonzales said, quoting Giammattei: “’I’m not asking you for money. I ask you for help. Can you help arrange a call or ask the Biden administration to work with me so we can resolve this issue? Because in his eyes, Guatemala is our southern border. He said, ‘They are here today; in a week they’ll be in El Paso or Brownsville.
Some Republican lawmakers say Guatemala has lamented its border crisis for years.
Sen. Bill Haggerty, R-Tenn., said Thursday that he also met with Giammattei at his presidential palace in Guatemala City in May 2021. During their meeting, Haggerty said the Guatemalan president said he had ” lost all control of its southern border”. “
Meanwhile, Guatemalan officials have also publicly pushed back against US initiatives.
Biden’s Department of Homeland Security announced on April 27 that it would open regional processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia to “reduce irregular migration and facilitate safe, orderly, humane, and legal pathways from the Americas” to countries such as the United States, Canada and Spain. .
“We want to be clear and say very, very, very clearly that Guatemala is not a safe third country and it never will be,” Mario Búcaro, a senior Foreign Ministry official, told reporters. May 2 press conference broadcast online on a Guatemalan national television channel.
Contributor: Rebecca Morin, Associated press