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Human Rights Watch: More Than 200 Salvadorans Were Abused, Killed After Deportation

Salvadoran deportees, pictured in June 2018, listen to instructions from an immigration officer at La Chacra Immigration Center in San Salvador, El Salvador. A Human Rights Watch Report found that 138 repatriated Salvadorans have been killed since 2013. More than 70 others were beaten, sexually assaulted, extorted, tortured or went missing.
Salvador Melendez

After living in the U.S. for five years, cousins Walter T. and Gaspar T. were deported to their home country of El Salvador in 2019, where they were ripped from their beds one night and beaten by police, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

"They began beating us until we arrived at the police barracks," Gaspar said in interviews.

The thrashings went on there for three days, according to the men. Despite threats from authorities that they'd be charged with gang membership, they were eventually released. No charges were filed.

Walter and Gaspar, who say they had initially fled El Salvador to escape forcible gang recruitment, had hoped to gain asylum in the U.S. But their applications were denied.

The pair's experience is one of more than 200 cases uncovered by Human Rights Watch in which Salvadorans are put in harm's way — at risk of violence at the hands of gangs, law enforcement or security forces — as a result of tightening asylum and immigration policies in the U.S.

"Salvadorans are facing murder, rape, and other violence after deportation in shockingly high numbers, while the US government narrows Salvadorans' access to asylum and turns a blind eye to the deadly results of its callous policies," said Alison Parker managing director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch and coauthor of the report.

The 117-page report was compiled over a year and a half using court records, press reports and first-hand interviews with surviving family members and nongovernmental agency workers.

In all, researchers found 138 cases of repatriated Salvadorans killed since 2013. More than 70 others were beaten, sexually assaulted, extorted, tortured or went missing, according to the study. But, the reports says, the deaths "represent the tip of the iceberg—as ... people deported to El Salvador encounter a wide range of human rights abuses that fall short of death."

Until now, no government, U.N. or nongovernmental organization has monitored what happens to people when they're returned to El Salvador, according to HRW.

"This report begins to fill that gap," the study says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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