Trump Says El Salvador is Safe to Send 200,000 People Back. Here’s Why He’s Wrong:
By: Ciaran Traynor
On Monday January 8th, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it is ending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for over 200,0000 Salvadoran natives living in the United States. The program has been in effect for 17 years and beneficiaries have been given until September 2019 to obtain alternative legal status or depart the country.
The announcement comes following the termination of similar programs aimed at protecting Haitian, Sudanese and Nicaraguan citizens in November and is widely seen as a broader crackdown on legal immigration into the United States under the Trump administration.
When questioned as to why these protection statuses should end now (having been extended consistently under Bush and Obama), The Trump administration has in the past directed attention to the word “temporary”, seeming to imply that the decision should come as no surprise for people who have bought property, started businesses and had children in all the time that they have resided in the US. While this measure is sure to come as a resounding victory for hardline immigration advocates, the complicated and often-viewed destructive relationship that the United States has historically had with El Salvador appears to not have been a factor in the “review of the disaster-related conditions upon which the country’s original designation was based...”
Introduced in 2001, TPS for Salvadorans arose from a series of earthquakes that rocked the nation and caused extensive damage to an already weakened infrastructure and difficult living standards. However, what makes El Salvador (and Central America in general) exceptional to merely being pulverized by natural disasters is the historical endurance of brutal dictatorships, bloody civil wars and contempt for human rights regularly perpetuated by US intervention.
Going back to the tail end of the Cold War in 1980, the Salvadoran Civil War began between the then right-wing government and Marxist guerrillas. In what was seen by Washington as “Cold War Containment Policy”, the Reagan administration positioned itself as a path towards democracy and began sending millions in economic aid and to train Salvadoran soldiers in an effort to halt a feared spread of communism south of the US border. This training included the funding of military advisors to help the Salvadoran army fight the dirty war for both counter-insurgency and torture tactics. The United Nations Truth Commission asserts, “more than 85 percent of the killings, kidnappings, and torture had been the work of government forces, which included paramilitaries, death squads, and army units trained by the United States.”
While the US effectively funded the civil war for 12 years, El Salvador saw 70,000 people die and thousands more flee the country, many heading north to (you guessed right) the United States. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, peace talks ensued and accompanied with the decline of US aid, the war was considered over in 1992. However, during the Clinton years, EL Salvador began to receive a huge influx of deportees from the US. With its institutions unable to address the magnitude of people coming back into the country, El Salvador became gripped with social problems giving rise to organized violence and criminal gangs such as the infamous MS-13.
Today, El Salvador is considered one of the most dangerous countries to live in the world. Young people are meticulously recruited to join gangs or face having them and their families killed. Statistics from El Salvador’s Ministry of Education shows that just 42.6% of students who were in the sixth grade in 2011 were enrolled in school by the end of 2016. Despite having built new lives for themselves, TPS Salvadorans now face the prospect of deportation causing unimaginable upheaval - not only to businesses and families in the US, but also El Salvador itself. According to the World Bank, 17% of El Salvador’s GDP is derived from money repatriated from the US back to family members still in El Salvador. Further economic chaos is also highly anticipated should over 200,000 expats return to an already high unemployment rate and minimal capability to assist so many lost people arriving at the same time.
While immigration appeared to be the forefront on the 2016 Presidential Election and will continue to be debated as the status of DACA looms, little regard has been given to the reasons why so many Central Americans have been granted protected status or have had to flee their home countries in the first place. At home, the US has been both lauded and criticized as “the Police of the World” and the “Champion of Democracy”, yet has taken on minimal responsibility for the negative consequences these policies have created. Now, even the relatively modest past gestures of helping some of these people is about to be reversed. Clearly it’s not enough to destroy these communities, but we now have to add insult to injury.