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El Salvador: News & Updates

El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The US-backed civil war, which erupted after the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980, lasted 12 years (1980-92), killing 70,000 people and forcing 20% of the nation’s five million people to seek refuge in the US.

Learn more here.

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In the Cleveland EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review, aka Immigration Court), there has been a significant increase in FY23 in both 1) new deportation proceedings filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and 2) deportation orders issued by Cleveland EOIR immigration judges.

New Deportation Proceedings Filed in Cleveland

FY22 = 940 average per month

FY 23 = 2,015 average per month


Deportation Orders Issued by Judges in Cleveland

FY22 = 293 average per month

FY23 = 449 average per month

IRTF publishes these numbers in the monthly Migrant Justice newsletter, which can be accessed at .

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In this monthly newsletter, we highlight the work of Ohio Immigrant Alliance in advocating for the asylum rights of Black Mauritanians.

Black, African and Caribbean migrants seeking safety in the United States have been treated unfairly for decades. They are subject to deportation proceedings at a higher rate than other migrants. They are denied asylum at higher rates. They have higher rates of detention and solitary confinement. All of this is rooted in institutionalized racism.

The racist treatment of Black migrants is very much reflected in Ohio’s sole immigration court (Cleveland) where deportation proceedings against Mauritanians are disproportionately represented. While Cleveland is just one of 69 immigration courts, 18% of all deportation proceedings filed against Mauritanians have been filed in Cleveland this fiscal year (11,623 nationally; 2,146 Ohio).

In the Take Action section, you can learn more about Ohio Immigrant Alliance’s efforts to get DHS (Dept of Homeland Security) to designate TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Mauritanians. If granted TPS, they would not be placed into deportation proceedings.

Read this monthly newsletter in its entirety at

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President Bukele, who imposed a State of Exception in March 2022, says that his iron-fist approach to crime has been successful in dismantling gangs in urban centers. Now he’s moving the crackdown and round-up of suspected gang members to the countryside. In Cabañas, an agricultural department in the north, 7,000 soldiers and 1,000 police established a security border surrounding a region larger than New York City to “extract [the gang members] from their hideaways.

Rights groups have been highly critical of the mass arrests carried out under the state of emergency, saying they have led to thousands of people being arbitrarily detained. They have documented the deaths of 174 people in state custody and over 6,400 human rights abuses.

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A new law passed this week allows up to 900 alleged gang members to be tried at once. Human rights groups are highly critical because the collective trials will further violate "the rights to an adequate defense, to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence," said Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara Rosas. The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) said collective trials would make it "impossible" to guarantee "a fair trial and the right to a defense." Marcela Martino, CEJIL deputy director for Central America and Mexico, told reporters: "This makes us wonder if the government's policy of persecuting the gangs, organized crime, is killing the rule of law and democracy.”

Is this truly about crime or about Bukele’s ambitions to hold onto the presidency? Judge Antonio Durán in the city of Zacatecoluca has been critical of the State of Exception that President Bukele imposed in March 2022: "This is all part of Bukele's campaign for reelection, which is unconstitutional." With a controversial green light from the Constitutional Court, Bukele announced that he will run in elections in February 2024, despite a constitutional ban on successive presidential terms.

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Despite the federal government’s bragging that its new asylum-restriction policies at the border are working (backed by stats of fewer “encounters” of undocumented persons), measures to further block people from crossing and soliciting asylum are on the rise. Biden is requesting more money for ICE and CBP, which means more surveillance, militarization, and detention. In the Rio Grande, Texas Governor Abbott is stringing a series of floating buoys wrapped in concertina wire and anchored to the riverbed below with webbing to prevent people from swimming underneath.  Aside from being unusually cruel and dangerous to migrants and wildlife, the measure is most certainly in violation of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which was established in 1889. And Texas State Troopers told The New York Times that “there were explicit orders [from supervisors] to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico.” This is consistent with a story published in The Guardian in which troopers reported treating a four-year-old girl who passed out from heat exhaustion in 100-degree temperatures, only to watch the Texas National Guard push the girl and her group back into the river to Mexico.  

We’re doing what we can to stay on top of migration news at the border, in Ohio, and in the Cleveland immigration court.

In this month's newsletter, please read about: 1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, 2) ICE Air: update on removal flight trends, 3) The Human Costs of the Asylum Ban, 4) At the Border: recent incidents, 5) Darién Gap: Tourism Booms while Migrants Suffer, and 6) Texas Deploys Floating Buoys in the Rio Grande.

TAKE ACTION on any of these items: A) Tell Biden to cut ICE and instead fund real human needs, B) Tell senators to oppose the Supplemental Border Funding Bill, C) Tell your congressperson to vote no on the DHS Security Appropriations Bill, D) Tell Congress to reject new bills that deny access to asylum at the southern border, E) Sign up for the Biden deportation tracker, F) Urge Congress to pass the Afghan  Adjustment Act. 

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President Bukele’s “state of exception” has led to the mass incarceration of 2% of the nation’s population. Poised to run for a second term in February 2023, Bukele is upping his draconian iron fist policies—with the support of the Congress and popular opinion.

The latest:

On July 26, Congress passed by 67 votes in favor (just 6 against) a new law to allow prosecutors to simultaneously try up to 900 people alleged to be part of the same criminal group at the same time! And the maximum penalty for being found guilty of being a gang leader was increased to 60 years in prison.

Ingrid Escobar, spokesperson for Humanitarian Legal Aid, a group providing assistance to Salvadoran detainees, said prisoners are at risk of being tried for crimes they did not commit. She warned they could be prosecuted simply “for living in a place stigmatized by gangs, despite not necessarily being gang members themselves.”

While the get-tough-on-crime policies are popular in El Salvador, human rights groups in the country are taking their criticisms to the international arena.  On July 14, at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (based in Washington, DC), human rights organizations denounced the deaths of 174 people in state custody and over 6,400 documented human rights abuses during the “state of exception,” which was initiated by President Bukele in March 2022. It has been renewed by legislators every month or two since.

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Bukele, a 42-year-old former marketing executive who prefers TikTok to traditional media, has described himself both as an “instrument of God” and the “world’s coolest dictator.” Over a year ago, Bukele declared a state of emergency (ostensibly to crack down on violent crime) that suspended civil liberties as authorities jailed more than 70,000 people — about 2% of the country’s adult population — in a matter of months. As homicides plunged, Bukele’s approval ratings skyrocketed. Today 93% of Salvadorans endorse his presidency. 

Steven Levitsky, who is co-author of the 2018 bestselling book “How Democracies Die,” said it’s no accident that Bukele’s ascent has coincided with a rise in crime across many parts of Latin America. “Security pushes people to the right, almost invariably, and pushes voters in a more authoritarian direction in the sense that they’re willing to accept violations of human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,” Levitsky said. “People across the world are willing to sacrifice a lot of liberal democratic niceties for security.”

Brian Winter, editor in chief of Americas Quarterly magazine, recently wrote that violent crime may be replacing government corruption as the most important issue for voters in Latin America.

And the popularity of Bukele's populism is spreading throughout Central and South America. In Argentina and other Andean nations, Bukele’s face now appears in the campaign advertisements of candidates hoping to exploit his political capital. Some politicians, including Colombia’s presidential runner-up, Rodolfo Hernández, have made pilgrimages to El Salvador to observe for themselves the cult of “Bukelismo.”

The Republicans in Congress like him too. “It’s absurd to criticize [Bukele] for giving Salvadoran people their freedom back,” said Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida and member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who met with Bukele in El Salvador this spring. “The left is so allergic to law enforcement that it would rather see [criminal gangs] Barrio 18 and MS-13 roaming the streets than criminals locked up.”

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Today, a group of 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing serious concern over the prolonged detainment of five prominent anti-mining activists in El Salvador. The arrests, which occurred on January 11, 2023 targeted leaders from the rural community of Santa Marta in northern El Salvador who were instrumental in passing a 2017 ban on metallic mining; El Salvador remains the only country in the world with such a ban.

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For decades the United States has armed and supported military and paramilitary forces around Central America in its fight to oppress challenges to global capitalism. In this glorious struggle no means and violent actions were too extreme for "the nation of freedom and liberty," no matter who the victims were. Especially under the Reagan administration, violence by US-trained and armed forces ramped up, with one of the most devastating acts being the El Mozote massacre of December 1981 when the Salvadoran Army's Atlácatl Battallion killed more than 800 civilians, including children, in the small village in northern El Salvador. 

In this period of war crimes one of Reagan's most important supporters was Elliott Abrams, who served under President Reagan in the US State Department as both Assistant Secretary of Human Rights and Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs. From the beginning on Abrams' was a strong supporter of the US's insurgency policies and a strong defender of dictators like Ríos Montt in Guatemala under who's regime mass murder, rape and torture were committed against the Ixil Mayan people, events later classified as a genocide by the United Nations. When asked about the US's record on El Salvador in 1994, Elliott Abrams called it a "fabulous achievement." 

Thirty years after the end of his initial service in the State Department under Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump brought Abrams back to the forefront of international politics as the United States Special Representative for Venezuela, were he represented the US's policy of starving the nation and support of the attempted coup in Venezuela. In 2020 Abrams additionally took over as Special Representation for Iran, pushing sanctions that harmed the Iranian civilian population. 

Now the Biden Administration is sending to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee the nomination of Elliott Abrams to join the State Department Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It is clear that Elliot Abrams does not belong in another US administration. Please urge all Committee members to oppose his deployment. 

You can help in our (and other human rights groups') efforts.


1) Click here to see if your US senator is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams.

2) Send a message to your US senator even if they are not a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US Senate, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. You can find contact info for your US senators at

3) Send a message to your US congressperson.  Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US House, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. Take action at