Institutional crisis in El Salvador could worsen forced migration

February 13, 2020 On February 9, heavily armed military and police forces entered the Legislative Palace in San Salvador, something the country has not seen since the Peace Agreements were signed in 1992.  The display of military force was ordered by President Bukele after days of tension with the legislative body, and was aimed at forcing a vote on a loan for $109 million dollars for his national security plan.

These actions drew a swift response from international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as local civil society organizations, all of whom urged  respect for democratic institutions and social harmony. Alianza Americas has joined the call to action, urging the Bukele administration, civil society,  and other key players in the country to engage in dialogue toward solutions that do not imperil democratic institutions. 

This new political crisis could contribute to an increase in the number of people from El Salvador, who leave the country in search of safety in the United States, only to be blocked by the Trump administration from seeking asylum. A recent report by Human Rights Watch highlights the serious dangers for people who are deported back to El Salvador. According to the investigation, 138 deported people have been killed and more than 70 have suffered an injury, rape or other type of aggression since 2013. It should not be forgotten that in 2018, El Salvador was the country with the most cases of asylum seekers in the U.S., according to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Despite the challenges facing El Salvador, the United States considers the country a key ally in its strategy to stop migration flows in the region. Recently, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill said her country is not ready to receive asylum seekers from the U.S. This statement was made five months after the Salvadoran government signed a deal with the Trump administration to accept asylum-seekers sent to El Salvador by the United States.

In neighboring Guatemala, a recent agreement with the United Nations aims to increase the country’s capacity to bring its migration protocols in line with international standards. 

Recognizing the growing crisis of human rights in the Central America-Mexico-US migration corridor, the OAS Human Rights Commission issued a press release urging the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to take steps to guarantee the protection of rights of migrants in the region.

497 migrants died on the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019

For migrants, 2019 was marked as a year of violence and death. According to a report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least one migrant died every day in the Mexico-United States border zone, reaching 497 deaths by the end of the year. The Missing Migrants project noted that 2019 has been one of the deadliest years on record, as a result of harsher border control between the two countries. It is concerning that countries are writing off deaths as a cost of irregular migration and have failed to take any meaningful measures to ensure that people do not continue to die at the border.

The United States, the destination country for many Mexicans and Central Americans fleeing conditions of violence and insecurity in their home countries, also fails to protect migrants from acts of violence. An agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is being investigated for the death of a man of Mexican origin in Brooklyn. The case, which took place on February 6, occurred in the sanctuary city of New York, which the Trump administration has criticized by claiming that such policies “protect criminals”.