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Putting Lives at Risk: Protection Failures Affecting Hondurans and Salvadorans Deported from the United States and Mexico

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Francisca Vigaud-Walsh, Eric Schwartz, and Gabriela Dehesa-Azuara


The Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) is at a crossroads. On the one hand, significant bilateral and multilateral efforts are underway to help stabilize these countries and to improve the capacity of their governments to meet the needs of those who have been forced to return from the United States and Mexico. On the other hand, these countries remain plagued by violence and the number of people fleeing the Northern Triangle continues to climb. Meanwhile, both Mexico and the United States are taking increasingly robust measures to detect, detain, and deport migrants. Most recently, the Trump administration refused to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for El Salvador. As a result, some 200,000 Salvadorans in the United States may be forced to return to a country experiencing extraordinary levels of violence.

Taken together, these trends raise a number of pressing questions regarding the protection of migrants, asylum seekers, and deportees from Northern Triangle countries. First, can asylum seekers be confident that their claims will be considered fairly when they arrive in Mexico and the United States? Second, are Mexico and the United States deporting migrants and asylum seekers with protection needs to the Northern Triangle, where there are significant protection concerns? Third, are Northern Triangle countries able to meet the protection needs of these deportees? Fourth, if not, is the international community doing enough to fill protection gaps in the Northern Triangle?

To explore these questions, Refugees International (RI) conducted a mission to Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador in November 2017. In all three countries, the RI team met with national and local authorities, United Nations officials, representatives from international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and community-based organizations, human rights defenders, members of the donor and diplomatic communities, as well as migrants and deportees. This report seeks to shed light on whether the United States and Mexico are meeting their responsibilities to provide access to asylum and assesses national and international efforts to provide protection to deportees in Honduras and El Salvador.

For the purposes of this report, international protection is defined as the range of measures taken to secure the rights and well-being of displaced persons, including migrants and asylum seekers, when those rights are at risk. Protection can include efforts to strengthen asylum procedures in countries of refuge and to safeguard the well-being of individuals who have not had access to asylum—or have been denied asylum—but are nonetheless at grave risk of rights violations upon return to their country of origin.

Based on its research, RI is convinced that both the United States and Mexico are deporting individuals with protection needs. The protection process at every stage—from asylum application to deportation to reintegration in countries of origin—suffers from serious failures that ultimately put lives at risk. Furthermore, RI found that despite important investments in reception services for deportees, both Honduras and El Salvador have weak protection systems. This report sets out a series of recommendations that the United States, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador should take to secure the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, including the protection of those deported to the Northern Triangle.