El Salvador Creates Deportee-to-Prison Pipeline

by Susan Cruz

This statement was originally published on the author’s personal Facebook page. The material has been reproduced here with author’s permission.

Recently I met with Salvadoran government officials to discuss re-entry and re-insertion efforts for deportees. I am writing to share with you one of the most egregious efforts against deportees created by the Salvadoran Assembly. Decree 717 was created in response to Trump’s statements about deporting alleged gang members en masse. In a knee-jerk reaction the Salvadoran Assembly passed, and President Sanchez Céren ratified Decree 717 which creates a deportation-to-prison pipeline. It went into effect July 14, 2017. (Click here to read Decree 717)

After hearing about this from the government officials, I met with a Salvadoran Assembly-member, who did not vote for the Decree, but was kind enough to confirm the information and provide me with an official copy of it so I could read it. I consulted with three different attorneys in El Salvador and they all agree that it is an affront to the Constitution and a gross violation of civil rights; however, it is real and it is already being implemented. In essence, Decree 717 criminalizes anyone who is deported as soon as they land in El Salvador.

This is how it works: Any law enforcement officer in the United States, and it seems that in other countries as well, can label a Salvadoran national as an alleged gang member or associate. This is accomplished usually by reviewing social media, which doesn’t require a court order, and other surveillance tactics, including observations from School Resource Officers and school personnel sharing information with local law enforcement, who then feed this information to Federal agencies like ICE. A teenager wearing a t-shirt of the Salvadoran soccer team using a nickname on social media can be labeled a gang member by law enforcement, even if they are not gang-involved. This affects both minors and adults.

Upon arrival in El Salvador, immigration officials review that person’s records, provided by ICE in conjunction with law enforcement in the U.S. The deportee is then instructed to register with Salvadoran law enforcement, and has to provide an address so they can report either weekly or bi-weekly to their local police department to sign a registry book, much like being on probation or like a sex-offender registry. If they refuse to comply, they are arrested and put in prison. If they leave El Salvador, say to visit a neighboring country, and do not inform the police, they are arrested and put in prison upon return. This is without committing any crime in El Salvador. The threat of incarceration rests on the gang allegation made in another country, like the United States.

The Salvadoran officials who told me about this are aware of the tremendous strain it will put on an already bloated prison system and on the National Civilian Police; however, they noted all they can do is implement the law, but they are not the authors.

On the U.S.-side of things this will create an unnecessary burden on the immigration court system as immigration attorneys scramble to counter gang allegations made against their clients. It is far too easy for someone to be accused of being a gang member or associate, and extremely difficult to remove the allegation as neither law enforcement or the different court systems (juvenile, criminal, immigration) truly understand the dynamic evolutionary nature of gang membership. In the United States it has been shown that gang databases included infants and other persons who were not gangsters (see: http://www.latimes.com/…/la-me-ln-calgangs-audit-20160811-s…)

I write about this to ask that you help to raise awareness. This is a transnational issue that affects both the United States and the Northern Triangle, not just El Salvador. If you have media contacts, please share this with them. Share this with your elected officials so they stop funding the government of El Salvador until they stop abusing civil and human rights. If you’re an attorney, share this with your colleagues who represent Salvadoran nationals. If you know and care about someone from El Salvador, share this with them as well. You might save their lives.


For all questions or inquiries, please contact the author at susanncruz@gmail.com

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