The Harsh Reality of United States Deportation Policy

At least 138 Salvadoran deportees from the US in the past seven  years were murdered upon return to El Salvador, according to a Feb. 5 report from the Human Rights Watch (HRW). Until now, no governmental or non-governmental organization has monitored what happens to Central American asylum-seekers after they are deported by US authorities.

“The US government has deported people to face abuse and even death in El Salvador,” the report says. A large majority of people deported from the US back to El Salvador face the same abusers they fled from, “often in the same neighborhoods.”

The majority Salvadorans emigrate from their homeland to escape violent gangs, which control large parts of the country. Some emigrants are former police officers who flee because the gangs are too dangerous to police. HRW indicates that in many of the more than 200 cases they reviewed to compile their report, they “found a clear link between the killing or harm to the deportee upon return and the reasons they had fled El Salvador in the first place.”

HRW stated in the report that there is no official record of how many Salvadoran deportees are murdered following their return to El Salvador. The research suggests that the number of those killed is likely greater than the 138 cases investigated.

In recent years, the number of Salvadorans who express fear of violence upon their return to El Salvador has skyrocketed, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. US authorities have ignored this fear, as Trump administration immigration policies are making it increasingly difficult for Central American migrants to find asylum. HRW says that “in many cases the US is putting Salvadorans in harm’s way in circumstances where it knows or should know that harm is likely.”

This harm is not limited to murder. The report also investigated more than 70 instances of deportees being subjected to sexual violence and torture at the hands of gangs. These people usually went missing following their return to El Salvador.

Bryan D. Cox, press secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the Washington Post that “removals conducted by ICE are done in full accordance with federal law as passed by Congress after an individual receives all appropriate legal process before the courts.” Cox went further to say that “the [Human Rights Watch] document relies upon anonymous sources, [so] it’s impossible to verify or address claims.” However, the report is not entirely founded on anonymous sources. HRW said in the report’s summary that they “found these cases by combing through press accounts and court files, and by interviewing surviving family members, community members, and officials.”

Central American deportees in general are subjected to a system “plagued with court backlogs, lack of access to effective legal advice and assistance, prolonged and inhumane detention, and increasingly restrictive legal definitions of who merits protection,” according to the report. The US has enlisted the help of Mexico and its deportation system to handle the large influx of asylum seekers. The same system Mexico’s own human rights commission labeled as “broken.”

The report says that Mexican and United States immigrations officers “made at least 732,000 migration-related apprehensions of Salvadoran migrants” between 2009 and 2019. The number of Salvadorans seeking asylum in the US has jumped from 5,600 in 2012 to 60,000 in 2017, according to the Washington Post.

Under the Trump administration, immigration policy becomes tighter and more restrictive, rejecting many helpless people looking to escape violence. HRW predicts that the migrant situation for Central Americans “will only worsen.”