US send first non-Guatemalan migrant family to Guatemala

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala on Thursday received the first family of migrants sent by the United States under an agreement to return non-Guatemalans who passed through that country on their way to the U.S. border.

A non-governmental worker familiar with the migrants' transfer said a family was among 14 migrants from Honduras and El Salvador who arrived in Guatemala. The person did not know which of the two nations they were from and requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the topic.

Under the agreement, the U.S. returns non-Guatemalan asylum-seekers who passed through the Central American nation on their way to the U.S. to seek protection there instead if they wish. It has struck similar agreements with Honduras and El Salvador but they haven’t taken effect.

Critics, including some within the Guatemalan government, have argued the country is ill-prepared to handle asylum-seekers.

Central Americans fleeing to the United States to escape poverty and violence tend to come as families, underscoring the importance of Thursday’s flight. U.S. arrests on the Mexican border reached a 12-year high of 851,508 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, more than half of them people who came in families.

The Guatemala accord is expected to hit Hondurans and Salvadorans especially hard due to their large numbers and because their land routes to the U.S. border pass through Guatemala. Hondurans accounted for 29.8% of border arrests last year, while Salvadorans made up 10.5%.

U.S. administration officials have said anyone flown to Guatemala has no U.S. claim and is sent to apply for asylum there — not to wait out U.S.-based cases, unlike the more than 50,000 people who were sent back to Mexico to wait out their U.S. claims.

The arrivals Thursday coincided with the visit of acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf, who was meeting with security ministers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Guatemala's Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart said they would discuss immigration issues, adding that they want to battle transnational criminal organizations “not the migrants, but rather the unscrupulous people who profit from the ideas or need of our people.”

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AP writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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