The cost of President Donald Trump’s blinkered and punitive American immigration policy isn’t just measured in dollars or dignity; it’s costing people their lives. We, of course, already knew that to be true, but a new report from Human Rights Watch adds new data to help articulate the literal human cost of America’s increasingly restrictive immigration stance—one that has all but eliminated migrants’ right to asylum. The nongovernmental organization’s investigation into the fate of deported Salvadoran migrants, forced to return to the country they fled, found that at least 138 Salvadorans—and likely many, many more—were killed shortly after being deported.
Stricken with gang violence that has left the country of 6.5 million with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, El Salvador has undergone a mass exodus, with people fleeing to try to find safety elsewhere. “Of the estimated 1.2 million Salvadorans living in the United States who are not U.S. citizens, just under one-quarter are lawful permanent residents, with the remaining three-quarters lacking papers or holding a temporary or precarious legal status,” Human Rights Watch reports. “While Salvadorans have asylum recognition rates as high as 75 percent in other Central American nations, and 36.5 percent in Mexico, the U.S. recognized just 18.2 percent of Salvadorans as qualifying for asylum from 2014 to 2018. Between 2014–2018, the U.S. and Mexico have deported about 213,000 Salvadorans (102,000 from Mexico and 111,000 from the United States).”
The problem isn’t going away; it’s growing. The number of U.S. asylum-seekers from El Salvador grew by nearly 1,000 percent between 2012 and 2017. “The U.S. 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,” the Human Rights Watch report notes, “but in many cases the U.S. is putting Salvadorans in harm’s way in circumstances where it knows or should know that harm is likely.”