Guatemalan President Alejandro Giamatti presented an initiative to Congress on Friday to dramatically toughen prison sentences for people smugglers, with sentences of up to 30 years against the worst offenders.
For many years, Guatemala was a major transit country for poor Central American immigrants – including Guatemalans – who made the treacherous journey through Mexico to the United States in search of a better life.
But the Guatemalan government has sought to crack down on people-smuggling gangs after dozens of migrants died in high-profile accidents, either through overcrowding in transport vehicles or at the hands of criminal groups.
Giamatti proposed raising the penalties for smugglers, known as “wolves,” to the 10-30 years from the two to five years currently stipulated under Guatemalan law.
“I reaffirm my government’s commitment to tighten prison sentences against coyotes and traffickers,” Giamatti said in a speech to Congress, adding that the United States should also extradite people smugglers.
The proposal states that if smugglers transport minors, pregnant women or migrants for inhuman treatment, the penalties could be more severe.
Giamatti’s announcement comes weeks after 55 migrants, most of them Guatemalans, died when the overcrowded truck carrying them overturned across southern Mexico.
The Guatemalan president called for the reform to be passed as a matter of national urgency. But the changes must first be discussed and approved by at least two-thirds of the 160 members of Congress.
The bill is seen as a good opportunity to pass as the ruling party can get the necessary votes through alliances and support from other seats.
Guatemalan immigration authorities said Friday they are monitoring another possible caravan of migrants that will leave Honduras at the weekend and try to cross Guatemala.