Virus fear turns deportees into pariahs at home in Guatemala

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Deported Guatemalan Vanessa Diaz, 28, looks toward her family as she picks up the food they brought her, at the site where Guatemalans returned from the U.S. are being held in quarantine for two weeks near the airport in Guatemala City, Friday, April 17, 2020. After Diaz was free to go home after testing negative for COVID-19, her mother heard rumors that neighbors were organizing to keep her from reaching her home in the northern province of Petn, and she doesnt dare venture out. The mother has filed a complaint with police, because shes afraid neighbors might yet attack the house. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

GUATEMALA CITY – Migrants returning from the United States were once considered heroes in Guatemala, where the money they send back to their hometowns is a mainstay of the economy.

But since the coronavirus pandemic hit, migrants in town after town have been mistreated, run off or threatened by neighbors who fear they will bring the virus back with them from the United States.

Similar mistreatment is being reported across Latin America and the Caribbean. In Haiti, police are guarding a hotel full of quarantined deportees from the U.S. — partly to prevent them from escaping and partly to stop attacks from neighbors frightened of the coronavirus.

For immigrants already shaken by the Trump administration’s hard line on deportation, mistreatment at home is a further blow, and a disturbing illustration of how the pandemic is upending longstanding social norms in unexpected ways across the world.

Vanessa Díaz said her mother heard rumors that neighbors were organizing to keep her from reaching her home in the northern province of Petén after she was deported back to Guatemala on a flight from the United States.

Díaz had to run inside with her 7-year-old son and hide when she arrived.

“When we arrived my mother said, ‘Get out of the car and run into the house.’ She was afraid they were going to do something to us,” Díaz recalled.

The Guatemalan government says at least 100 migrants deported from the United States between late March and mid-April have tested positive for COVID-19. Even those who, like Díaz, are not infected — she was placed in quarantine at home for two weeks after arriving last month on flight where nobody tested positive — carry the stigma.