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El Salvador police officers convicted of killing trans woman who had been deported from U.S.

Camila Díaz Córdova was deported from the United States despite telling American asylum officers that she feared for her life in her home country.
Image: Transgender woman Leticia shows a photograph of Camila Diaz, another transgender woman she met while migrating to the U.S. where they both turned themselves in to U.S. immigration authorities and were eventually deported
Transgender woman Leticia shows a photograph of Camila Diaz. Leticia met Diaz while migrating to the U.S. where they both turned themselves in to U.S. immigration authorities and were eventually deported.Salvador Melendez / AP file

Three police officers were convicted in a Salvadoran court in the 2019 murder of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who had been deported from the United States the year before.

The three officers convicted of aggravated homicide July 28 were Jaime Geovany Mendoza Rivas, Luis Alfredo Avelar Sandoval and Carlos Valentín Rosales Carpio, according to the newspaper El Diario De Hoy. Each officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Three former police officers are taken to a hearing as they face charges for aggravated homicide and the kidnapping of Camila Diaz Cordova in San Salvador, El Salvador, on March 11, 2020.Jose Cabezas / Reuters file

Diaz left El Salvador in 2018 and traveled to the U.S. with a migrant caravan to request asylum, as NBC News previously reported. After her claim was rejected, she went back to El Salvador where she reportedly returned to sex work. After midnight on Jan. 31, 2019, she was arrested for public nuisance and intoxication.

According to El Diaro De Hoy, she was beaten by the arresting officers in the patrol car and left in the road for dead. She was found and later taken to a hospital where she died from her wounds on Feb. 3, 2019.

In 2017, the United Nations called for an investigation into the surge of violence against transgender women in El Salvador. Local LGBTQ groups have counted the killings of at least 600 transgender people since 1993.

Last year, 34 members of Congress sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demanding better treatment for transgender people in their custody, highlighting reports of mistreatment in detention and deaths like Cordova’s that followed deportations.

When Camila Díaz Cordova was killed, many feared it would be another unsolved murder in El Salvador, which in recent years has had one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

Instead, the convictions last week were the first time a Salvadoran courtroom had convicted someone in the killing of a transgender woman, local activists say.

“This landmark ruling is much needed in a country where LGBT Salvadorans and their families rarely see justice for violent crimes,” José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The outcome of Camila’s case sends a powerful message to Salvadoran society that anti-LGBT violence will not be tolerated.”

In an email, Bianka Rodríguez, executive director of the Salvadoran advocacy organization Comcavis Trans, said that “there is a systematic disrespect for migrants” in the U.S., accusing it of violating treaty obligations not to return asylum-seekers to danger.

“It is a call to the U.S. and immigration judges to reconsider and analyze each asylum application based on generalized violence,” she wrote, “since, according to our records and reports of forced internal displacement, the perpetrators of violence are not only restricted to gang or family groups, but also extend to state security forces.”

Rodríguez said her group celebrates the officers’ convictions but criticized the prosecutor for failing to convict on more stringent hate crime charges.

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