McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Several former Guatemalan judicial leaders in exile and faith-based and nonprofit groups are asking the United States to impose sanctions against Guatemala to stop what they call a “corrupt” regime controlling the Central American country and leading to mass migration north.

On Monday, the grassroots group Iniciativa Causas Raíz (Root Causes Initiative) sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting tough sanctions against Guatemala and its president, Alejandro Giammattei.

“We urge you to stand with Guatemalans who are struggling to restore democracy and the rule of law in their country, by ending U.S. support for the Giammattei regime, imposing tough Global Magnitsky Act financial sanctions on high-level officials and oligarchs who have conspired to force more than two dozen independent judges, prosecutors and civil society leaders into exile, and using U.S. influence with the IMF and other international lenders to block new loans, which only fuel corruption and electoral manipulation,” the letter says.

“The letter is signed by over 1,000 faith leaders (and nonprofits) highlighting the need for tough sanctions and actions to hold corrupt Guatemalan leaders and oligarchs accountable,” said Marisa Limon Garza, senior director for advocacy and programming for Hope Border Institute, based in El Paso.

A push for sanctions is coming from a group of exiled former Guatemalan officials who are now living in the United States and supporters in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Mexico.

Former Guatemala Attorney General Thelma Aldana is in exile in the United States. During a webinar on Monday, she pleaded for support and help for those in Guatemala to “fight for democratization.”

She is among two dozen former judicial officials and judges who have been exiled. They claim persecution by the Giammattei administration forced them to flee their country.

“There are 24 justice operators in exile and that needs to be called to the attention of the international community. That denotes a systematic attack,” Aldana said via an online interpreter.

Throughout the hour-long webinar on Monday, the connection was repeatedly hacked, leading Garza to comment that she had never experienced such an interruption during an online meeting.

“We cannot normalize corruption and the fleeing of millions of Guatemalans,” Aldana said in Spanish.

Suppressed Indigenous populations in Guatemala and systemic poverty are root causes that supporters say are driving millions of Guatemalans to cross the border north, many trying to claim asylum in the United States.

Graphic courtesy Washington Office on Latin America

Since the start of the year, Guatemalan migrants have consistently been among the most trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

Aldana said over 3 million Guatemalans have tried to leave their country and migrate elsewhere “because there are no opportunities and because they violate human rights.”

According to the World Justice Project, 9% of Guatemala’s population has tried to leave the country and 36% have succeeded.

And 19% of Guatemalans report being victims of crime in the past year, the most of any country, according to the World Justice Project.

Their pleas come as the Summit of the Americas is being held this week in Los Angeles.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Monday that he will not attend the summit, dealing a blow to the United States’ efforts to rally governments to work together to address surging migration in the hemisphere.

“Today, at this pivotal moment, the Biden-Harris Administration must show the world that it consistently supports democracy and human rights by standing with the Guatemalan people in their struggle against impunity,” the Root Causes Initiative letter says.