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Deportation is a death sentence, and our government’s hands are bloody

Deadly violence is inescapable for hundreds of returned Salvadoran migrants. This small, Central American country is the murder capital of the world.

Why, then, is the U.S. government knowingly sending asylum seekers to a country where gang members and government authorities prey on them?                         

More than 138 innocent people were murdered after being deported by the United States between 2014 and 2018. At least 70 other Salvadorans were greeted with sexual assault or suffered other types of violence – such as extortion, dismemberment or torture – when returned to El Salvador.        

The Trump administration is doing everything it can short of murdering asylum seekers directly – and it’s doing so right under our noses.   

When referring to Latino migration at a rally in Panama City Beach, Florida, President Trump asked the crowd, “How do you stop these people?” A crowd member responded, “Shoot them!” Thousands of audience members cheered while Trump smiled like a Cheshire cat.           

The message is clear: Trump is on a mission to eviscerate the U.S. asylum process. He wants migrants out, and he wants them out now, even if deportation is a death sentence.           

The administration has put in place a series of policies meant to shred the asylum process and has systematically transformed our immigration courts into a deadly deportation machine for the subset of asylum seekers who actually get a chance to have their day in court.

It’s sickening.     

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pronounced in June 2018 that domestic and gang violence were no longer grounds for asylum. More recently, the U.S. government signed an “asylum cooperation agreement” with El Salvador that allows them to send certain non-Salvadorans at the U.S.-Mexico border to El Salvador instead of granting them access to the U.S. asylum process.

As the administration makes the crackdown on immigration its centerpiece, the goal of these policies and ploys is clear: Deny access to the asylum process and deport asylum seekers, no matter the consequences. The U.S. government therefore bears some responsibility for the 138 Salvadoran lives lost – and likely more deaths that have yet to be reported.               

We could have saved the Salvadorans – and should have. But the U.S. government sent them back to El Salvador to die.   

Salvadorans seeking asylum in our country grew by almost 1,000 percent between 2012 and 2017. They stressed what we already knew – that they were fearful of gang violence. They risked their lives by bravely journeying to the United States, and put their faith in our country to protect them. But only about 18 percent were granted asylum. The rest were sent back to a country gripped by violence and other horrors that led them to flee in the first place.             

Once deported, migrants are no longer our “problem.” In fact, they’re dead.         

The sad reality is that migrants like these Salvadorans flee to the United States with a suitcase full of dreams. They believe the United States is the safest place in the world, because it was built by immigrants. Our country is the land of opportunity, a melting pot that welcomes the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning for freedom.       

But this administration is throwing the tired, poor and huddled masses to the wolves, either by denying them access to the asylum process – to which they are entitled under the Immigration and Nationality Act – or by sentencing them to death by deportation, all while falsely labeling them “thugs” and “animals.”       

The Salvadorans – like so many other migrants fleeing violence and persecution abroad – only wanted the chance to live without fear. They wanted the chance to be rescued – to live. But now they’re dead, and our government has their blood on its hands.

We must end deportation death sentences. And we must do it now.     

Photo by David J. Phillip/AP Images