- Clara Longsenior researcher for Human Rights Watch, focusing on immigration and border policy.
A shocking new report says at least 200 Salvadoran asylum seekers were either killed, raped or tortured after being deported from the United States back to El Salvador. Human Rights Watch found that some 138 people deported to El Salvador were murdered by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads or ex-partners between 2013 and 2019. The report says most of the victims were killed within two years after being deported, by the same perpetrators the asylum seekers had fled from. From Denver, Colorado, we speak to Clara Long, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. And joining us from El Salvador, we speak to “Arturo,” a Salvadoran national who was deported back to El Salvador after living in the United States for 19 years. He asked for his real identity to be concealed for safety.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show looking at a shocking new report that says at least 200 Salvadoran asylum seekers were either killed, raped or tortured after being deported from the United States back to Salvador. Human Rights Watch found 138 people deported to El Salvador were murdered by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads or ex-partners between 2013 and ’19. The report says most of the victims were killed within two years after being deported, by the same perpetrators the asylum seekers had fled from. The Human Rights Watch report is titled “Deported to Danger: United States Deportation Policies Expose Salvadorans to Death and Abuse.”
For more, we’re joined by Clara Long, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. She joins us from Denver. And from El Salvador, we’re joined by a Salvadoran man who was deported back after living in the U.S. for 19 years. To protect his identity, he’s asked us to call him “Arturo.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Clara, let’s begin with you. Lay out the findings of this report.
CLARA LONG: Thanks, Amy. As you’ve said, we found over 200 cases of people who were harmed after being deported by the United States to El Salvador. In most of the cases we identified and investigated, that harm occurred within a year of their return, and some longer. And in a couple cases, people were killed within a day of arrival.
What we found is that people who suffered harm had — came from many different categories. They had lived in the United States for a long period of time and then been deported. They had fled abusers, domestic violence in El Salvador, and then were returned by the United States and then suffered harm from the same abusers. Some of them were police officers who fled because of threats from gangs, and then, upon being deported, were killed by the same people who had threatened them. Others were people who had been recruited into gangs, fled that recruitment, and, again, suffered — were returned and were killed.
And, you know, what we’ve concluded from this research is, these enormous flaws that exist in the U.S. asylum and protection system are causing a huge harm. We believe the number that we’ve identified here to be an undercount. We describe our methodology for finding these cases, and what comes out of that methodology is that since no government entity tracks whether deportees are among people who are being murdered or harmed or sexually assaulted, you know, what we’ve really been able to identify is it could be just the tip of the iceberg.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this has gone from the Obama years to the Trump years. And if you could explain that and how now the situation is?
CLARA LONG: Right. I mean, anyone who says that they’re going to enter into the presidency and roll back everything Trump has done is not saying enough. The Trump administration has engaged in a dedicated campaign to eviscerate the right to seek asylum in the United States, and that has resulted in an almost closed space for seeking protection. However, the Trump administration inherited from the Obama administration a flawed system that did not adequately weigh asylum seekers’ claims. And that is borne out in this research. People who were deported under the Obama administration also did not have an adequate opportunity to get protection for the threats that they faced upon return to El Salvador.
And that’s due to a couple things. I mean, one is the way that the system works — the lack of due process, lack of attorneys, these overloaded immigration courts. But it’s also due to U.S. law and the fact that U.S. law is simply too narrow to protect against the range of threats that people face upon return. And so we recommend that U.S. law should be changed, you know, that we should be not only offering protection to people who qualify on a narrow range of grounds under the current asylum definition, but using the sort of logical standard of: Is someone going to face a real risk of harm if they’re returned? And if so, no matter what the source of that harm, they should be protected from that.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Arturo. He is a Salvadoran national, deported after living in the U.S. 19 years. Arturo, thank you for joining us. Explain what happened to you.
ARTURO: Yes. During my staying in the United States, I was found guilty of a crime, which I was trying to appeal it in the court system. And just as she was mentioning, there is a lack of due process. And during my process, I was on the appeals, and I served five years in prison. And by the time I was granted parole because of my behavior, it was thrown out the window, pretty much, because I was not given the right of appealing it to the court. There were some discrepancies in the proceedings. And they withheld evidence, evidence that could have helped me in the crime, or at least present my innocence. And because I was [inaudible] hold in the immigration system, the immigration just went, got me in. They decided not to give me the chance to proceed on these court proceedings, and I have deported back to El Salvador.
AMY GOODMAN: And what have you faced at home?
ARTURO: There’s so many different things that I have faced. First off, I live in a danger neighborhood, where it belongs to, you know, one of the gangs. By me going to a different neighborhood, I face a danger of not coming out of that neighborhood. The way they do it in here is that when they don’t recognize somebody that is from that neighborhood, even if you’re visiting family members or anything like such nature, they will stop you. They will question you: “Where are you from?” They will take your ID by force. They will make you take your clothes, make sure that you don’t have —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re having some trouble hearing Arturo.
ARTURO: They might make you disappear.
AMY GOODMAN: Arturo, if you could explain your PTSD diagnosis?
ARTURO: I left El Salvador during — after the peace agreements, because I grew up in the war. I went to the United States. I served in the fire department as a volunteer. And [inaudible] have all these traumas, they kind of got messed up a little bit. So I got diagnosed with PTSD and stress. So, I was into medicine because of all these things that I have seen, not just during the war, but also in the fire department.
AMY GOODMAN: And we should say that when Arturo talks about the war in El Salvador, the history books now reflect, in the 1980s into the '90s, the U.S. supporting the paramilitary death squads and the Salvadoran military, which was responsible for so many deaths in El Salvador. Clara Long, how typical is Arturo's story?
CLARA LONG: Very typical. You know, what we find is that — what we found is that people who are deeply rooted in the United States, who have lived there, built homes, families, communities there, are easily identifiable in El Salvador, targets for extortion, sometimes targeted because of any tattoos they may have, no matter what the origin of those tattoos. And the other thing that’s important to underline here is that everyone should have the right to seek asylum, to have a fair hearing on their claims and to make sure that whatever arguments they have or whatever reasons they have for needing protection are considered. And that didn’t happen for Arturo. And that, unfortunately, is typical, has been typical. And under the Trump administration, it’s just completely the norm.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are you calling for, in these last 15 seconds?
CLARA LONG: Immediately, the sort of — the immediate call here needs to be, Congress needs to end the harmful migrant protection protocols, this “Remain in Mexico” program along the U.S.-Mexico border, that is putting tens of thousands of people in immediate danger and also giving them no chance of a fair shake in their asylum claims. Over the long term —
AMY GOODMAN: Clara Long, we want to thank you so much for being with us, senior researcher, Human Rights Watch. And Arturo, not his real name, but for fear of reprisal, speaking to us from El Salvador, after being deported from the United States, where he lived for 19 years.
Democracy Now! is accepting applications for a paid, year-long news production fellowship. Go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.