When demonstrations against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were brutally suppressed by security forces in April, the White House condemned the violence.
“The repugnant political violence by police and pro-government thugs against the people of Nicaragua…has shocked the democratic international community,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time. “The United States condemns the violence and repression propagated by the Government of Nicaragua.” As recently as this week, Sanders said the Ortega government was responsible for “indiscriminate violence”.
But these strong condemnations haven’t stopped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from quietly partnering with the Ortega government in an effort to speed up deportations of Nicaraguan immigrants in the United States.
As first reported by the Guardian, ICE officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the Nicaraguan government in April, the same month Nicaraguan security services began to brutally crack down on protesters. According to an ICE press release, the memorandum allows the Nicaraguan government — now an “authorized foreign partner” — to upload travel documents for ICE and grants them access to the US database on foreign nationals.
The political violence orchestrated by the Ortega government has caused thousands to flee the country as refugees and asylum seekers. For those who manage to reach the US, this memorandum would not only speed up their deportation back to a country teetering on the precipice of serious political violence, but also allow the Ortega government to selectively pick who it wants deported back to Nicaragua first — further endangering fleeing political activists.
At least 300 people have been killed since April in Nicaragua protesting against the Ortega government, including 38 in a single day on July 10th. Many of the dead and wounded have been students, and the security forces have been accused of shooting indiscriminately at protesters and collaborating with pro-government paramilitary groups, according to Amnesty International.
One of those killed was Álvaro Conrado, who died in April passing out water to student protesters in the capital city of Managua. His father said that a sniper shot him in the throat, and Álvaro died on the way to hospital. Another similarly brutal incident occurred in July, when a family of six, including two infants, were killed after pro-Ortega paramilitaries burned down their house.
In May, the Trump administration ended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaraguans, which allowed them to work and live in the US while their country recovered from political instability. Last Friday a group of seven members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), wrote to Trump to ask him to re-instate TPS for Nicaraguans.
“The U.S. has the responsibility to protect the fundamental freedoms of all individuals, safety being one of them,” the letter read. “We believe it would be irresponsible for the U.S. to send these individuals to Nicaragua to face violence, chaos and oppression.”
Despite ICE’s continued partnership with Nicaragua, other agencies of the U.S. government are refusing to continue security co-operation with the Ortega regime. In June for instance, Ambassador to Nicaragua Laura Dogu announced that the U.S. had secured the return of several police vehicles which were being used to quash peaceful protests.