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February 6, 2020
Asylum seekers are not lying. The Trump administration has gutted the asylum process in the United States on the assertion that most asylum seekers are trying to game the system. His administration has attacked the bases for seeking asylum (restricting asylum for those fleeing gang or domestic violence, or threats to family members), detained tens of thousands of people for extended periods of time while their asylum claims are processed, and has forced nearly 60,000 people to wait in Mexico for asylum hearings that take place in tents with judges thousands of miles away, and in which less than 1% are granted asylum. He is now denying asylum to people who cross through a third country before arriving at a U.S. border, and has begun sending asylum seekers (regardless of where they are from) to Guatemala - one of the least safe countries in the hemisphere.
But asylum seekers are not lying; they are not mostly trying to game the system. They are fleeing conditions that are dangerous, and seeking safety here in United States.
Below we discuss a report issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch about people deported from the United States to El Salvador who were killed upon their return. We also highlight an article about the emergence of Hindu Nationalists (not a new phenomenon, but now firmly in power) and the recent dramatic increase in asylum seekers from India.
Human Rights Watch: Deported to Danger
Human Rights Watch issued a report yesterday showing that many people who are deported back to El Salvador end up raped, murdered or tortured. Though impossible to track every case, based on press reports and court filings, HRW was able to identify 138 people who had been murdered since 2013 following their deportation from the United States. They also documented over 70 cases where people deported had been raped, tortured or suffered other harm on return. All of these numbers are undercounts. The information is difficult to track and certainly sexual violence is severely underreported in El Salvador, as it is in most countries.
110,000 people were deported to El Salvador from the U.S. between 2014 and 2018. The mortality rate demonstrated by these numbers is well above the current murder rate (just over 20 per 100,000 recorded YTD in November 2019) - an even higher than the peak rates recorded in 2015 and 2016. In many cases, HRW was able to track the cause of death to conditions claimed in asylum requests. Some examples:
- In 2010, when he was 17, Javier B. fled gang recruitment and his particularly violent neighborhood for the United States, where his mother, Jennifer B., had already fled. Javier was denied asylum and was deported in approximately March 2017, when he was 23 years old. Jennifer said Javier was killed four months later while living with his grandmother: “That’s actually where they [the gang, MS-13 (or Mara Salvatrucha-13)] killed him.… It’s terrible. They got him from the house at 11:00 a.m. They saw his tattoos. I knew they’d kill him for his tattoos. That is exactly what happened.… The problem was with [the gang] MS [-13], not with the police.” (According to Human Rights Watch’s research, having tattoos may be a source of concern, even if the tattoo is not gang-related).
- In 2013, cousins Walter T. and Gaspar T. also fled gang recruitment when they were 16 and 17 years old, respectively. They were denied asylum and deported by the United States to El Salvador in 2019. Gaspar explained that in April or May 2019 when he and Walter were sleeping at their respective homes in El Salvador, a police patrol arrived “and took me and Walter and three others from our homes, without a warrant and without a reason. They began beating us until we arrived at the police barracks. There, they held us for three days, claiming we’d be charged with illicit association (agrupaciones ilícitas). We were beaten [repeatedly] during those three days.”
The broader conditions described in the report demonstrate the grave insecurity facing so many in the country. There have actually been more disappearances recorded in the decade from 2010-2019, than were recorded during the civil war (1978-1992) - almost 11,000.
Death squads are still operating in El Salvador as well:
UN agencies, human rights observers, the press, and government all acknowledge that death squads and extermination groups still operate in El Salvador today. Three individuals interviewed for this report, all of whom were gang members but told us they left the gang prior to their deportations from the United States, expressed their fear of these groups to Human Rights Watch. Often, when these cases are described by journalists in press accounts, the assailants are described as “men wearing black” or men “wearing military or police-style” uniforms; victims are sometimes described as blindfolded, with their hands and/or feet tied behind their backs.
Gang violence is a well known source of violence. However, the police are also responsible for considerable violence. From the report:
In 2019 alone, the Central American University Human Rights Institute received seven reports of elite Salvadoran police units burning victims. For example, in March 2019, Tactical Operation Section agents beat, strangled, blindfolded, and handcuffed a 20-year-old man in a sugarcane field in Apopa municipality whom they suspected of gang membership or hiding weapons or drugs, and set fire to the field where they left him unconscious. He emerged from the fire with burns to his face and feet. Victims or witnesses of eight arbitrary arrests in two incidents in 2019 and late 2018 told Human Rights Watch of beatings at police barracks.
In August 2019, the Lethal Force Monitor reported that Salvadoran police and soldiers killed 1,626 people from 2011 through 2017, including 48 boys, four women, and 355 men in 2017. Authorities recorded every year more than 92 percent of victims as gang members and nearly all incidents as “confrontations” or “shootouts.” However, also in August 2019, the PDDH reported that it had examined killings of 28 boys, seven women, and 81 men and found few resulted from confrontations.
The report does a good job over providing an overview of U.S. immigration policy and its impacts on asylum seekers from El Salvador. The list of recommendations for steps needed to support the rights of those seeking aslyum include: end the Migration Protection Protocols (“remain in Mexico”), end the Asylum Cooperation Agreements that are sending people seeking asylum to Guatemala (and eventually will include El Salvador and Honduras), end prolonged detention within the U.S. for those who have established a credible fear of persecution or torture, and pass legislation that codifies international obligations into U.S. domestic law regarding asylum.
There is little discussion in the report of U.S. support for El Salvador’s police and military, historically or in the current period. Certainly any future assistance to either should be blocked until there is an end to police arbitrary killings and the numerous reports of cooperation between police, local officials and gangs is investigated.
Asylum seekers from India on the rise
We have been reporting about five men (now three) who have been on hunger strike since October. The men are asylum seekers from India. One has been deported, another released last week. Three remain on strike and in detention in Jena, Louisiana.
In recent years the number of people seeking asylum from India has increased dramatically, parallel to the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, which is in firm control of the country’s government now.
After migrants from Latin America, more Indians are detained at the US southern border than citizens of any other country. 2018 (the last year for which figures are available) saw the highest number of detentions ever recorded: nearly 9,000 Indians were caught by the border patrol, a dramatic increase from a decade before when only 77 were caught.
As they make their journey halfway around the world, Indians face the same dangers as other migrants do: they risk rape, robbery and death on the border – a six-year-old Sikh girl died while crossing the Arizona desert in mid-June. And the dangers persist when they reach American soil: five Indian asylum seekers have been on hunger strike for more than 90 days to protest at being held in a Louisiana Ice detention centre, and two of them have been force-fed.
Earlier this week, the Guardian ran a profile of conditions in India, and the situation of asylum seekers trying to get relief in the United States.
Migration is driven by a host of causes, but many US immigration lawyers say the rise in undocumented Indian migration is linked to the ascent of the BJP – and the sectarian violence the party has inspired.
“If you look at when this uptick began, it really stems from when the BJP came into power,” said Deepak Ahluwalia, an immigration lawyer who frequently works with Indian asylum seekers.
Since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, vigilante violence by militant Hindu nationalists in India has surged. As many as 90% of religious hate crimes in the last decade took place after Modi was elected, according to Factchecker.in, an Indian group that tracks religious hate crimes.
Victims – often Muslims, low-caste individuals and other minorities – have endured forced conversions, fatal beatings and even lynch mobs. Extremist groups have attacked fellow Indians suspected of stealing or slaughtering cows, which are sacred in Hinduism. These vigilante Hindu groups killed at least 44 people between May 2015 and December 2018, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report.
People around the world are on the move, fleeing violence or simply searching for opportunity and security. The numbers are increasing every year now - over 70 million currently displaced around the globe. The response in many places has been weaponized identity politics, mobilized by nationalists, like Trump, like Modi, like Bolsonaro in Brazil, and neo-fascist parties in Greece, France and elsewhere. Alongside this response, are efforts to craft new international agreements on migration to protect the rights of people. Some days it feels like a race to see which side will win - at the moment, the side for humane treatment for people forced to migrate seems to be lagging behind.