It feels like everytime El Salvador is in the news, it's never for something good. Despite its “majestic rivers, superb volcanoes, peaceful lakes, and its skies of purple and gold”, like with everything else, the limelight of global media will only shine down when something negative can be said about the country. At least this time, the attention is welcome. It could end up helping the lives of thousands.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that the provisional residency permits provided to about 200,000 Salvadorans would be terminated. In 2001, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 hit the coast of the country. Although I was only five at the time, I still have vivid memories of the day. According to my parents, we had to move, as our house walls cracked and most of the roof tiles fell and broke during the quake. However, my family was lucky. Hundreds died, thousands were injured, and many more were left without homes. With nowhere else to go and with the country’s infrastructure in ruins, many made the arduous journey across the continent (some completely by land) to seek refuge in the “land of the free”, the United States.
Under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) policy, which was renewed through the next few administrations, they were allowed to work and live legally in the US. They got jobs or started businesses, formed families, and even gave birth to children in this new land. Their previous lives were lost, but at least they were able to build new ones in the States. However, because the current administration believes that El Salvador has sufficiently recovered from the destruction of 17 years prior, they must once again abandon everything that they gained through hard work and go back to a country in which they own nothing. And their American children? Stay and lose their parents, or leave and lose their home.
However, not only will this break and ruin the families in the States, many analysts expect this massive migration to have rippling negative effects across “America’s little thumb”. A significant section of the Salvadoran population depends on the remittances sent by family members in the United States to stay afloat economically. According to certain sources, from the January to the November of 2017, around 4.51 billion USD were mailed home from abroad. It is approximated that these remittances account for almost 17% of the country’s economy! Not only will the nuclear families suffer, the extended families and the country as a whole will too. With people still leaving the country due to the lack of well-paying jobs and the relatively poor state of the economy, it doesn’t seem likely that these families will be able to easily bounce back from this financial blow.
As I made clear, such a decision by the Trump administration can potentially destroy thousands of families and could plunge the Salvadoran economy into a pit. However, conservatives will argue: so what? To them, these families came into the country illegally, meaning that letting them stay indefinitely will be going against the law, and they don’t see why they, as Americans, have to care about the people of all these countries they can’t even find on the map.
The truth is, however, that this does concern them. The current state of the country can be traced back to the US. Like with many other countries across the globe, the US toyed with El Salvador and used it as a pawn during the Cold War. The Salvadoran Civil War between the left-wing guerrillas and the US-backed military-led government began in 1979 and lasted a total of around 12 years. Thousands upon thousands died, including many civilians, and many more were displaced.
The country never recovered. The damages caused and the atrocities committed, including many massacres the US partook in, have created a deep political polarization. Politics in the country are led by two parties: ARENA, the right-wing party descended from the old government, and FMLN, the left-wing party created by the guerrillas form the war. The divide is so serious, people do not choose sides based on their own political ideologies, but based on the side their family participated in during the war. This has led to complacency from politicians. Their promises, their intellect, or their personalities don’t matter since people will still vote for them due to their “political genetics”.
The control held by the gangs, and the consequential violence and crimes also have roots in the United States. These gangs originated in neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Although they escaped the destruction of the civil war, young Salvadorans were still not out of harm's way. They formed gangs to fend off other groups in these neighborhoods. Unable to control these, the US government decided to deport them back to El Salvador where they grew in both numbers and power.
Salvadorans have had their lives messed around with by Uncle Sam for decades. Like with the Korean peninsula, the Middle East, and almost every other country the US fiddled with, if the US was not willing to handle the consequences of its meddling, it should have not put its fingers where they didn’t belong — a lesson its current president should also learn.