El Salvador

With some of the highest homicides rates in the world, the violence in El Salvador rival some of the world’s worst war zones.

The conditions in El Salvador have roots in the bloody 12-year Civil War of the 1980s, in which more than 75,000 citizens were killed, many of them in mass death squads. (The United States provided military and financial support to El Salvador’s military-led government during the Civil War.) The Civil War mutilated the economy and the country’s infrastructure leading to extreme poverty. More than three million people left El Salvador during the Civil War, contributing to the break-up of many families. Many people who fled to the United States ended up in poor communities rife with violence and established gangs. In response, some of the individuals from Central America formed their own gangs for protection and later, to pursue criminal activity. Many of these youth were convicted and deported back to El Salvador, where they reconstituted the gangs that then flourished in their ravaged home country.

Gangs are pervasive and control entire swaths of areas in El Salvador often intimidating, extorting, and exploiting citizens. Young men are targets for gang recruitment and threatened with violence and even death if they do not join. Young women are targets by these same gangs and forced to be a “girlfriend” of a gang member, and are at high risk of physical and sexual assault. Police and security forces have also been the target of gangs and many have fled seeking asylum themselves. In some cases, the Police and other government officials are in collusion with gangs. In other cases, in their efforts to combat gang members they have indiscriminately persecuted innocent people.

In 2017, the fourth highest number of asylum applications in the United States came from people from El Salvador. On June 11, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that gang violence does not constitute a valid claim for asylum. In August of that same year, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Administration over this decision. In December of 2018, the US Courts ruled that the Administration’s policy to deny people asylum based on violence was illegal. The Administration is appealing this ruling leaving thousands of humanitarian migrants in legal limbo.

Read More Here:

Human Rights Watch report on El Salvador.

Council on Foreign Affairs – Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle

The Guardian: “Our Country is Not a Safe Place