Guatemala U-15 players denied U.S. visas amidst Trump administration's threats toward Central American nation


Guatemala has vowed to stay in the Concacaf Boys' Under-15 Championship but will have to make alternate plans after nine players were denied a visa to travel to the United States on Friday.

Nine of the players on manager Rigoberto Gomez's 18-player squad already had visas, but the rest were denied Friday at the United States embassy in Guatemala City, according to a statement from Fedefutbol, the Guatemalan governing body. 

“As part of the procedure and preparation of our delegation, today nine players went to their previously scheduled appointment with the respective embassy to go through the visa procedure, presenting all the supporting and required documentation for obtaining (the visas). However, the visa request was not authorized for any of the nine players who are part of the Guatemala U-15 national team," read a statement released by the federation.

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"FEDEFUT will inform the Concacaf authorities and the organizing committee of the event about this topic.

"We want to re-emphasize that the Guatemala U-15 national team will be competing in the Concacaf championship, but it definitely will not be able to do so with the players that the coaching staff already have planned and with those who have gone through the preparation phase - finding ourselves at a sporting disadvantage and appealing to Fair Play."

The confederation said it will provide any resources it can to assist the federation as it looks to field a team in the tournament.

"Concacaf has provided the Guatemalan soccer federation the customary visa application process support we provide all of our Member Associations for competitions taking place in the U.S," a Concacaf spokesperson told Goal in a statement. 

"We do not know why certain applications by the Guatemalan Federation have been denied. While ultimately this is a matter for the Federation to address with the U.S. State Department, we will continue to provide any necessary assistance to to the Federation so they are able to participate in our Concacaf Boys’ Under-15 Championship."

Gomez, the coach, declined comment. So too did the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, with an employee noting its operating hours extend only to midday Friday.

The competition is set to take place between Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Guatemala's delegation is set to travel Aug. 2.

The tournament is slated to include 39 Concacaf members, plus three guest teams from UEFA. Guatemala is in a group with the United States, Suriname and Haiti.

NPR reported this week that United States President Donald Trump's administration is considering a travel ban on Guatemala after a high court in the Central American nation struck down an agreement on where asylum seekers can apply for asylum in the U.S.

"We're looking at something very severe with respect to Guatemala," Trump told reporters Wednesday. Trump tweeted Friday that an agreement had been reached with Guatemala and later signed an agreement in the Oval Office, though the text of that agreement was not made public and when it would go into effect remains unclear.

The agreement would mandate migrants in Guatemala apply for asylum while in Central America rather than after crossing the southern U.S. border.

"If Guatemala doesn't take significant action to help protect our borders, then we will, of course, look at all manner of solutions to the serious crisis we face," a White House official told NPR, "whether it's a travel ban, significant actions on remittances and/or tariffs."

However, the players are seeking entrance to the country not as asylum seekers, but rather on non-immigrant visas.

"A non-immigrant visa is used by tourists, business people, students, or specialty workers who wish to stay for a particular period of time in the United States to accomplish specific purposes," read guidelines on the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala website. "According to U.S. visa laws and regulations, most non-immigrant visa applicants must demonstrate to the consular officer that they have strong ties to their country of residence and must show that they intend to depart the United States after their temporary stay."

In October 2018, four players on the Guatemala U-20 squad, plus an assistant coach and a trainer, were denied visas as they sought to travel for the Concacaf U-20 Championship.