At least 138 Salvadorans have been killed after being deported from the U.S. in the last seven years, and more than 70 others have been violently assaulted, according to an alarming new report from Human Rights Watch.
In many of the incidents documented by the advocacy group since 2013, the victims were killed for reasons that had initially led them to flee El Salvador. The majority of the deaths were also found to have occurred less than a year after a person returned to their home country. Some deaths occurred within days, the report states.
The violence underscores the U.S.’s responsibility under international law for providing adequate humanitarian aid to refugees instead of narrowing their asylum eligibility, the advocacy organization said.
“U.S. authorities have knowingly put Salvadorans in harm’s way by sending them to face murder and attacks on their safety,” said Alison Parker, managing director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report.
“Salvadorans are facing murder, rape, and other violence after deportation in shockingly high numbers, while the U.S. government narrows Salvadorans’ access to asylum and turns a blind eye to the deadly results of its callous policies.”
The report found that the victims were often killed at the hands of their original persecutors or people they legitimately feared would harm them in the future. This included direct attacks by gang members as well as by police or other law enforcement officials who believed the victim was a former or current gang member, whether this was true or not.
In addition to the killings, Human Rights Watch found that some victims had been beaten, sexually assaulted, extorted or tortured. Their assailants included gangs, former intimate partners and Salvadoran police or security personnel. Much of the violence in El Salvador is a legacy of U.S. foreign policy in Central America and prior U.S. deportation policies.
Human Rights Watch’s report was based on official records, media accounts and interviews with families. The actual number of victims is thought to be much higher than reported, since sexual violence, torture or other harm is almost never reported by the press or to authorities, the group noted, particularly when it comes to violence against female deportees.
The report comes as the Trump administration continues to make it harder for Central American and other refugees to obtain shelter in the U.S. even if they face serious safety risks back home.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump inflamed fears by detailing a handful of incidents in which Americans were victimized by undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
He also decried so-called sanctuary cities that restrict cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and urged Congress to pass the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act, which, in broad terms, would allow “victims of open borders” to sue those jurisdictions.
Trump has previously cited false numbers that grossly inflate the number of crimes undocumented immigrants have committed in the U.S. and has baselessly painted people attempting to flee natural disasters as “very bad people.”
Refugees whose lives and safety are legitimately at risk just want a fair shot to make their case, Parker said.
“Instead of closing the door to the thousands of Salvadorans fleeing their homeland, the United States should provide them with full and fair asylum procedures and dignified treatment,” she said. “Before deporting Salvadorans, U.S. authorities should take into account the extraordinary risks of harm they may face upon return.”