The US government has deported people to face abuse and even death in El Salvador. The US is not solely responsible—Salvadoran gangs who prey on deportees and Salvadoran authorities who harm deportees or who do little or nothing to protect them bear direct responsibility—but in many cases the US is putting Salvadorans in harm’s way in circumstances where it knows or should know that harm is likely.
Of the estimated 1.2-million Salvadorans living in the United States who are not US citizens, just under one-quarter are lawful permanent residents, with the remaining three-quarters lacking papers or holding a temporary or precarious legal status. While Salvadorans have asylum recognition rates as high as 75 percent in other Central American nations, and 36.5 percent in Mexico, the US recognized just 18.2 percent of Salvadorans as qualifying for asylum from 2014 to 2018. Between 2014-2018, the US and Mexico have deported about 213 000 Salvadorans (102 000 from Mexico and 111 000 from the United States).
No government, UN agency, or nongovernmental organization has systematically monitored what happens to deported persons once back in El Salvador. This report begins to fill that gap. It shows that, as asylum and immigration policies tighten in the United States and dire security problems continue in El Salvador, the US is repeatedly violating its obligations to protect Salvadorans from return to serious risk of harm.
Some deportees are killed following their return to El Salvador. In researching this report, we identified or investigated 138 cases of Salvadorans killed since 2013 after deportation from the US. We found these cases by combing through press accounts and court files, and by interviewing surviving family members, community members, and officials. There is no official tally, however, and our research suggests that the number of those killed is likely greater.
Though much harder to identify because they are almost never reported by the press or to authorities, we also identified or investigated over 70 instances in which deportees were subjected to sexual violence, torture, and other harm, usually at the hands of gangs, or who went missing following their return.
In many 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. In other cases, we lacked sufficient evidence to establish such a link. Even the latter cases, however, show the risks to which Salvadorans can be exposed upon return and the importance of US authorities giving them a meaningful opportunity to explain why they need protection before they are deported.
Report by the Human Rights Watch
Deported to Danger – United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and Abuse1.76 MB