Syrian refugees drown, washing up on beaches in public view. Central American refugees, deported back to the countries they fled, die out of sight, out of mind. The Guardian highlighted three cases of young Honduran men who were murdered shortly after being deported. They are three among many, says The Guardian, referring to a study by a San Diego State University social scientist who has identified 83 such cases in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala since January 2014.
Nor are the cases limited to young men. An NPR report details the deadly gang threats to young girls in El Salvador. Marcela was 15.
“The grandmother tells us that Marcela’s boyfriend was a bus driver in a gang-controlled neighborhood. First, he got threats. ‘Help the gang or we’ll kill you.’ Then he disappeared.
“Then Marcela started getting threats. And now this: Marcela’s body, lying on the ground, while people drive to work.”
The United States refuses refugee status to young people fleeing gangs. Often officials refuse to even follow the law that provides for hearings for people claiming refugee status. From a Human Rights Watch report released in 2014:
“At the US-Mexico border, US immigration officers issue deportation orders to unauthorized migrants in accelerated processes known as ‘expedited removal’ or ‘reinstatement of removal.’ These processes include rapid-fire screening for a migrant’s fear of persecution or torture upon return to their home country or an intention to apply for asylum. As detailed in this report, this cursory screening is failing to effectively identify people fleeing serious risks to their lives and safety.”
In addition to removing people without allowing them to apply for refugee status, the United States has encouraged and assisted Mexico in stopping and returning Central Americans before they get to the U.S. border. In a second article in its series, The Guardian reported that Mexico has nearly doubled the number of Central Americans deported this year, with 92,889 deported between October 2014 and April 2015. Deportation is only part of the story, according to the Guardian’s report:
“This has forced travelers to divert their journey through more remote and more perilous regions, where they face a heightened risk of robbery, rape, abduction and death.
“Migrants interviewed in three separate church-run shelters on Mexico’s sweltering Pacific coastal plain, described taking lengthy detours – by land or even by sea – to avoid checkpoints and police raids.
“They spoke of violent encounters with armed robbers and corrupt police – and the constant threat of sexual violence against female migrants. Female migrants described how they were forced to sleep with people smugglers or coyotes in exchange for their ‘protection.'”
Sonia Nazario wrote Enrique’s Journey several years ago, tracing the path of a young boy who rode the infamous and perilous “La Bestia” train across Mexico. Now Mexican immigration authorities have tightened patrols, virtually eliminating that route of escape. Last week she wrote about the new wave of children fleeing Central America, saying that “a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence,” which makes this a refugee crisis, not an immigration crisis. She recounts an interview with an 11-year-0ld in Honduras whose father was murdered by gangs earlier this year:
“Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.
‘I’m going this year,’ he tells me.”
The explanations for the violence and gangs in Central America are complex, and all implicate the United States. NPR explains the situation in El Salvador:
“Back in the 1980s, during El Salvador’s civil war, many people migrated from El Salvador to the U.S. On the streets of cities like Los Angeles, they formed gangs.
“Then, many of them were deported back to El Salvador. And they brought the gangs with them. Now, El Salvador’s two main gangs — Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 — control much of the country. There is so much violence in El Salvador that someone dies there, on average, every hour.”
Nazario tells a similar story about Honduras, with seeds of violence in gang members deported from the United States in the 1990s, as well as dominance of foreign drug cartels in more recent years.
It’s easy to say that European countries should open their doors to more Syrian refugees. It’s not too much harder to say that the United States should do the same. And we should.
Closer to home, U.S. policies and wars, over the past half-century, have helped to create the deadly violence that Central American refugees now flee. The civil wars of the last century, supported by U.S. military aid; the drug wars that began then and continue now; the gang members deported from the United States; the guns, the failed justice systems — our country is complicit. We owe refuge to those fleeing Central American violence, not only on the grounds of international law and common human decency, but also because of the role the United States has played, over the past half-century, in creating the conditions that they flee.
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Learn more here:
- The Guardian on U.S. immigration
- The migrants who fled violence for the US only to be sent back to their deaths (The Guardian)
- US government deporting Central American migrants to their deaths (The Guardian)
- Mexico’s migration crackdown escalating dangers for Central Americans (The Guardian)
- The surreal reason girls are disappearing in El Salvador (NPR)
- A refugee crisis, not an immigration crisis (Sonia Nazario, New York Times)
- How El Salvador fell into a web of gang violence (NPR)
Support the Advocates for Human Rights: “For those Central American families who make it into the United States, The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal services to help them seek asylum. For migrants who are not located in the Midwest, The Advocates helps them, too, with its Asylum Helpline that connects families released from U.S. immigration detention centers across the nation with free legal services. Migrants are encouraged to call the Helpline at 612-746-4674 to receive basic legal screening, information about the legal process, and referrals to agencies in areas in which they live.”