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

US agents in Guatemala detained Honduran migrants in unauthorized operation: Senate report
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U.S. officials in Guatemala allegedly misused State Department funding for an operation to block a Honduran migrant group from moving north, according to a report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The report, compiled by Democratic minority staff of the panel, alleges that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials deployed in an advisory capacity misused the funding "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 report read.

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The incident, which occurred in January, shows the extent to which American immigration policy is carried out south of the U.S.-Mexico border.

It's also a case that shows a rift between the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, which is responsible for funding the program under which CBP personnel were deployed.

The report states that the State Department misinformed Foreign Relations committee investigators on January 22, saying the department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) was informed by DHS that 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," according to the report.

A week later, DHS and State Department officials told committee investigators that the actions taken by CBP officials violated the terms of the agreement between the two agencies.

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"This explosive report is a painful reminder of how President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE's anti-immigrant agenda has overtaken every aspect of this administration's work," said Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, whose staff wrote the report.

The direct tactical participation of U.S. officials in foreign immigration enforcement is believed to be the first such case, and could break a series of U.S. and international laws.

Because Honduran migrants were allegedly bussed back to their country without rosters, paperwork or oversight, there is no way to know if families were separated in the process, or whether any asylum rights were violated.

The deployment of tactical agents, who ultimately engaged in actions far beyond their advisory role, coincides with statements made by DHS Acting Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfHouse Democrats ask DHS to consider flu vaccinations for immigration detainees US agents in Guatemala detained Honduran migrants in unauthorized operation: Senate report Appeals court blocks further construction on Trump border wall MORE on U.S. security aid to Guatemala.

Wolf on January 14 attended Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei's inauguration, later meeting privately with the president to discuss immigration cooperation.

Upon his return, Wolf touted the presence of "CBP agents — tactical agents — in Guatemala," in a Fox Radio interview.

"As Guatemalan authorities prepared to respond to the surge of Honduran migrants crossing the border, Wolf's comments about the deployment of 'tactical agents' alluded to an unauthorized DHS operation conducted by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel in the country," committee investigators wrote.

The report highlights a part of the Trump administration's immigration enforcement that has been essentially outsourced to countries of origin, often under threat of economic or visa sanctions, or the withdrawal of international aid.

It's also evidence of increasing tension between DHS and the State Department, particularly country-level diplomats whose job it is to maintain long-term relationships on the ground in Central America.

Menendez's office in November wrote another report illustrating those divisions. That case involved an over implementation of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program, on which hundreds of thousands of Central Americans depend to live and work in the United States.

That report showed that the advisory opinions of diplomats on the ground were overridden by DHS and State officials in Washington in order to proceed with a White House policy decision.

The new Foreign Relations committee report concludes that such aggressive implementation of U.S. immigration policy led Giammattei to say, “‘I don't believe the U.S. is an ally to Guatemala, because they don't treat us like one.'"