By Jeff Abbott
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's administration stepped up deportations of Guatemalans in 2019, doubling the number of migrants sent back from the United States a decade earlier, data from the Central American country showed on Friday.
Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a major policy focus and has continued to press the issue in the run-up to the November U.S. presidential election.
Last year, the United States deported 54,547 people to Guatemala on 486 flights, the highest since at least 2007, according to data from the Guatemalan Institute of Migration. In 2009, the year Trump's Democratic predecessor Barack Obama took office, there were 27,222 deportations.
"We associate the increase with migration policies of the United States," Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Institute of Migration, told Reuters. She said she expected 2020 to follow a similar pattern.
There were more than 400,000 deportations to Guatemala during the decade through 2019, the institute's data show.
Deportations increased steadily in the first half-dozen year's of Obama's two terms as president, peaking at 51,157 in 2014, and then fell sharply the following year.
In 2017, the year Trump took office, 32,833 Guatemalans were deported from the United States. The next year deportations increased to 51,376.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said deportations were one of several steps the Trump administration was taking "to address the crisis" on the U.S. border with Mexico.
"We will make every effort to reduce illegal immigration to the United States," the official said.
In July, the Trump administration brokered an agreement with the Guatemalan government, allowing U.S. immigration officials to send migrants requesting asylum at the U.S.-Mexican border to apply for asylum in Guatemala instead.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's acting deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, said the agreement could also apply to Mexicans and other nationalities.
Under the program, 40 asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras have so far been sent to Guatemala.
Most of the people caught trying to enter the United States illegally come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
As of 2017, an estimated 1.4 million people of Guatemalan origin were living in the United States, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center.
(Reporting by Jeff Abbott; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Dave Graham, Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)