SAN SALVADOR, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Jose, a Salvadoran migrant recently deported to El Salvador by the United States, said the brutal way he was treated by U.S. immigration authorities violated his human rights.
He is one of thousands of mostly Central American migrants the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has deported amid the COVID-19 pandemic, threatening to fuel the outbreak even further, especially in less developed countries with weak healthcare infrastructure.
"They hurt me a lot," the 47-year-old deportee, who asked to remain anonymous, told Xinhua from his mother's modest home in the southern department of La Paz.
Jose was arrested in June 2019 in the U.S. state of Georgia on a driving infraction, and detained at an ICE facility because he has no legal documents for staying in the country.
While in custody, he developed a hernia that required surgery. In April 2020, about 10 days after the surgery, while he was recovering in a cell at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, guards ordered him to prepare for deportation.
He was still unable to stand up, so the guards grabbed him by his legs and neck to take him to a wheelchair. As he writhed with pain, they dropped him and he remained on the floor until nurses came to pick him up about 15 minutes later, he recounted.
"They grabbed my feet by force," said Jose, adding he pleaded that they simply deport him on a later date, once his surgical wound had healed. Instead, "one of them said 'turn off the cameras', because they knew what they were doing was a violation," said Jose.
Jose, who was put on a flight to El Salvador and deported on April 7, had previously lived in the United States for 17 years and expelled in 2018.
He returned to the United States because he wanted to reunite with his four young children and restart a small construction business, where he employed 10 people and paid taxes. When he was arrested again last year, he had been back for only a few months.
In El Salvador, he was the target of a kidnapping by criminals who assumed he had money from his years in the United States. They shot at his vehicle, causing him to collide and suffer injuries that later led to the hernia.
At Stewart, he was also concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 in cells that usually held 80 or 90 migrants.
"There were people who were already starting to have COVID-19 symptoms" and "they (the ICE) were covering up that many migrants were getting sick," Jose said.
Stewart reported that 31 migrants were infected with the virus and one died from the disease, the second COVID-19 death at an ICE facility, according to the latest data from the agency on June 15.
To date, the network of U.S. detention centers has seen 2,016 COVID-19 infections, after testing just over 5,000 migrants out of a total inmate population of more than 24,700, according to the ICE.
According to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the ICE has deported thousands aboard 135 flights to 13 countries since March, with the following countries reporting receiving deportees who have tested positive for COVID-19: Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Colombia and Haiti.
"The continued deportations of the (U.S. President Donald) Trump administration represent a significant risk to public health in the region (Latin American), and represent a burden for already overburdened health systems," CEPR researcher Jake Johnston told a May 29 forum on the issue. Enditem