The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is quietly partnering with the government of Daniel Ortega while publicly accusing it of killing its own people, in an effort to speed up the deportation of Nicaraguan citizens, the Guardian has revealed.
The UK publication says the partnership between ICE and the Ortega’s government began a week before mass protests erupted in the country in mid-April, and it continues despite a war of words between Washington and Managua.
This week, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, declared the Ortega government responsible for “indiscriminate violence” that has left scores dead and thousands injured since protests began three months ago. “The United States stands with the people of Nicaragua,” she said.
Ortega, meanwhile, has described the protesters as coup-plotters and terrorists involved in a US-backed conspiracy.
But when it comes to deporting Nicaraguans who live in the United States, the two governments are still working hand in hand, the Guardian referring to the memorandum of understanding signed by ICE officials with Managua in April to expedite the deportation of Nicaraguan citizens – shortly after Donald Trump revoked temporary protective status (TPS) for around 2,500 Nicaraguan immigrants.
ICE’s assistant director Marlen Piñeiro said in an April 10 press release announcing the deal, “Enhancing cooperation with our foreign partners to streamline and improve the removal process is a key part of enforcing our immigration laws and protecting our homeland.”
The system allows the Nicaraguan government “authorized foreign partners”, trained by ICE on how to access the US’s electronic travel document system, a database of foreign nationals, to upload travel documents that ICE agents can then print out “at detention facilities or field offices”.
ICE spokesperson, Brendan Raedy, confirmed the Nicaraguan government was an active partner of the agency. Memoranda of understanding (MOUs) had also been signed with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the Dominican Republic, he said.
The cooperation continues as an increasing number of Nicaraguans flee the country to escape Ortega’s crackdown. Most head to Costa Rica, where 23,000 have applied for asylum since the unrest started.
“But we can expect a wave of Nicaraguans coming to the US in the coming months as they flee political violence and instability,” said Geoff Thale, of the Washington Office on Latin America think tank. “The death toll is conservatively estimated at 300 – some human rights groups put the figure as high as 450 – since April. That’s a stunning figure for a country of only 6 million people.”
“We strongly believe that it’s a terrible idea to send people back to a country that’s experiencing such traumatic civil and political unrest,” said Carolina Jiménez, Amnesty International’s deputy director for research in the Americas. “…This is state-sponsored violence and certainly many of the people fleeing now could be seen as in need of international protection,” she added.
In a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump last month, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers called on the president to reinstate TPS for Nicaraguans, an immigration status granted to certain countries experiencing armed conflict or natural disaster, protecting individuals from deportation and allowing them to work in the US.
“Over the past three months, your administration has continuously spoken out against Daniel Ortega’s many abuses,” the letter said. “[W]e believe it would be irresponsible for the U.S. to send these individuals (back) to Nicaragua to face violence, chaos and oppression.”
The Guardian article closes that for now, the US is still working with the Nicaraguan government to do just that. And while Managua speaks of a regime-change plot from Washington, it remains a partner on drug interdiction, having hosted a high-level delegation of US military and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials in March, only weeks before the protests began.