Everyday an undetermined number of people decide to migrate from El Salvador, either they are forced to flee or they are looking for better opportunities. Every week, the Immigration Office of the country informs about the number of people that have been deported. Deportation comes with a huge burden. Not only the people that have been deported face the emotional stress of losing the only solution they thought they had, they also face the stress of being in debt with the smugglers. But what happens with the families that stayed in the country only to hear about their relative dying in their way? Now they face the permanent loss along with the debt to the smugglers and having no way of affording the repatriation of the body of their relative. With this question in mind, I decided to ask the Immigration Office about the data of all the bodies that were repatriated from all around the world to El Salvador. The database had the place of origin of the deceased, their age, the cause of death, the date of the repatriation and the country they had been repatriated from. This project allowed to shade light into the fact that most of these Salvadoran had been killed wether in their path as migrant or in the country they had decided to stay in. It highlighted the dangers that migrants have to face everyday and the financial burden that affects their families.
What makes this project innovative?
In El Salvador we mostly hear the stories of the people that have been deported or the ones that have managed to have a successful life in other countries. We hear about the deaths when they receive a big news coverage, but it usually just about the moment of the funeral. But is missing the insight on how much it cost to bring a body back to El Salvador, the administrative hassles, the uncertainty of receiving the body, the need of help from the Chancellery of El Salvador. That is what this project tackled. It also talked not only about the repatriation of bodies from the United States and Mexico, but it also had data from other countries including far away continents like Asia. At the start of this project, we expected that most of the bodies repatriated were from Salvadorans that already had a life in that other country and had died because of natural causes, this assumption was mostly because of the high cost that implies repatriating a body. But in fact, most have been people who have been murdered under different circumstances. Following the vision of our unit of making data accesible, we made the original database and the clean database available for download.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
We measured our success by the records of page visits and engagement with the users. The stories reported gained more retention time than other articles. The article was shared among academics.
Source and methodology
The source is the Minister of Foreign Relations. I requested the data of all the repatriated bodies from the years 2009 to March 2018. The original database was a mess. Even though it had all the information requested, the way they wrote the information of the cause of death was unorganized, informal and often had orthographical errors. It was clear the lack of an organized system to gather this information. Among the causes of death there was even one called “a tasteless prank”. This resulted in over 300 different causes of death even though most were the same just written in a different way. I had to manually organize and normalize this different registers, until we were able to have only 52 different causes of death. This helped us identify homicide as the main cause of death. A similar job had to be done with the information of the country the bodies had been repatriated from. For example, for some cases the original database only said United States and in other it only said California. With this found that the United States, followed by Mexico was the country were most bodies had been repatriated from. After finally having a clean database, we identified cases of families that had lost their relatives and had to pay for the service of bringing their bodies back through funeral homes and the help of the Chancellery. We also talked to funeral homes here in El Salvador that work with funeral homes in the United States and Mexico.
Since the database the Minister of Foreign Relations shared was in PDF format, we had to use OCR tools to transform it into an Excel file. Then we used tools like Open Refine and Excel to clean it and normalize it. Tableau was used to help the analyzing process and Flourish to visualize the information.
Lilian Martínez, editor.