What happens to deported Central Americans?

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Amnesty International’s new report, Home Sweet Home? Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador’s Role in a Deepening Refugee Crisis, documents the incredible levels of violence and impunity that are driving tens of thousands of people from these countries (known as the Northern Triangle of Central America) to flee their homes and seek asylum in the United States and Mexico.

It also investigates what happens to those Central Americans who are sent back to their countries of origin—often without receiving a fair hearing regarding the threats to their lives. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find this information:

No official statistics exist to document the number of deported migrants who are subsequently murdered, but news coverage and Amnesty International’s investigation suggests it is not uncommon. An upcoming study by social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy . . . said that a review of local news reports since 2014 showed 83 Central Americans were murdered after being deported from the United States. The numbers of those killed after being deported from Mexico are likely far higher, considering the sustained increase in deportations from [that] country.

Saul, for example, worked in the dangerous field of transportation—a sector frequently targeted by the gangs (maras) in the region.  In 2015, he was walking with his two sons in Honduras when they were fired upon. While Saul was not injured, his 7 and 14-year-old sons were seriously wounded. Saul unsuccessfully sought asylum in Mexico and was returned to Honduras.  When Amnesty International interviewed him in July 2016, he reported that he had recently suffered threats and intimidation and hoped to ask Mexico to grant asylum to his whole family. He was killed three days after the interview.

Women and girls are frequent victims of sexual violence in the region. Janette, for example, is unable to attend school in Honduras. Gang members raped her on school property in 2013. Only 13-years-old at the time, she was too frightened to report the crime to the police. She became pregnant and miscarried. The gang members continued to threaten Janette and her family, so her mother attempted to seek asylum for them in Mexico. Her mother decided to return to Honduras when they were told that they would be held in detention for 2 months before a decision could be reached. In 2016, Janette told Amnesty International that one of her attackers continued to harass her, even going so far as to enter her home without permission.

One of my duties as the El Salvador Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA is to provide expert testimony on behalf of Salvadorans seeking asylum in the United States. Unfortunately, cases like those of Saul and Janette are very familiar to me. I am very satisfied when my testimony helps some of them find the safety they disparately need, but there are so many others that I can’t possibly help them all by myself.

I therefore ask that you join Amnesty International in urging the United States government to do more to protect refugees and asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Please tell President Obama to designate all three countries for Temporary Protective status, one of the three actions that Amnesty International calls upon him to carry out during his final 100 days in office.

Please also call your U.S. Senators and House of Representative Member (202-224-3121) and urge them to cosponsor the Refugee Protection Act of 2016 (HR 5851 and S 3241.) This bill will

  • Ensure children who seek asylum have an initial interview with an asylum officer in a non-adversarial setting
  • Make the system more fundamentally fair by appointing counsel for children, victims of violence, and other vulnerable populations
  • Prevent the unnecessary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers
  • Create a more effective follow-up system in collaboration with NGOs

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