US’ El Salvador Deportation Policies Criticized of Jeopardizing Lives

In a 117-page report issued by human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, the United States is charged with deporting El Salvadoran’s to situations where “it knows or should know that harm is likely.”

The report combed through “press accounts and court files, interviewed family members, community members, and officials.” In the process, it discovered 138 cases of Salvadorans murdered since 2013 and over 70 cases of rape and abuse. In that time period, the United States deported 111,000 Salvadorans. It may not seem like a lot of people compared to the amount deported. Consider for a moment another aspect of the report, “of these more than 200 cases, we 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.”

All of these individuals had applied for asylum in the United States. The report cites international law, stating that there are “clear prohibitions…on returning people to risk persecution or torture.” This suggests that the United States either failed to adequately screen these candidates, did not know they were sending them back to harm, or did not care.

The answer is likely more complicated. Since 2012, the number of annual asylum candidates grew by almost 1,000 percent. In 2012 there were 5,600 applicants and in 2018 the numbers jumped to be an estimated 100,000 applicants from El Salvador. The reality may be that the United States’ is unwelcoming towards immigrants and has an ill-equipped immigration infrastructure to handle the influx in asylum seekers. Either way, the case is what it appears to be, as the report goes on to describe the terrible conditions of asylum seekers working through the United States’ broken system.

They are “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.” The system is clearly broken, but there is little effort made to do anything about it, and Salvadorans are dying as a result.

What’s Wrong in El Salvador?

According to the Human Rights Watch, El Salvador holds the title of having the highest murder rate in the world, and one of the highest rates of sexual violence and disappearance too. This is primarily due to the high rate of gang activity in the country, but the deeper you go, the more complex the story becomes. One study published in the journal ‘Social Forces’, recounts the entanglement between evangelical churches and gang activity in El Salvador. The churches are tied to gangs through family members, therefore, they tend to serve as safe havens for gang members. Another study from the Bulletin of Latin American Research, chronicles how the gangs in El Salvador are so intertwined into political and social life, the government is often forced to negotiate with them and their leaders.

Needless to say, the situation in El Salvador is dire.

What Can Be Done?

The report by the Human Rights Watch mentioned six actions the United States can take to help alleviate the problem for Salvadorans seeking asylum. While too long to list them all here they include things like, repealing “Migration Protection Protocols (MPP); the two Asylum bans; and the Asylum Cooperation Agreements.” They also detail actions congress can take. All the actions they detail, however, are aimed at the congress and the Trump Administration, which means the fate of El Salvador and Salvadorans alike, is in the hands of the United States federal government. The notion may either scare you or give you hope.

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