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Trump’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status for 200,000 Salvadorans is unjust and racist

Resist deportations and continue fight for legalization for all
Commentary by Brad Sigal |
January 10, 2018
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Minneapolis, MN - On Jan. 8, President Trump announced the end of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for around 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States. TPS for Salvadorans will be phased out in 18 months. This comes after Trump has already ended TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans, and soon Hondurans will almost surely lose TPS as well. While the loss of TPS for any country is an injustice, the number of Salvadorans with TPS is more than all other nationalities combined.

The Trump administration’s decision to end TPS for Salvadorans is yet another racist and vicious attack in the seemingly nonstop barrage targeting immigrant families. But this is one of the most consequential attacks so far alongside the ending of DACA. Ending TPS for Salvadorans is targeting 200,000 people along with their families in one fell swoop. This is particularly evil because of its scale, because of how long Salvadorans with TPS have been in the U.S. and established deep roots, and because of the U.S. government’s historic and present role in causing mass migration from El Salvador. The U.S. government played a decisive role in causing massive violence in El Salvador which has provoked continual mass migration since the 1980s. Then the U.S. government engages in mass deportation against the people who fled the country that U.S. policies has wrecked.

El Salvador is a country with 6 million people densely packed into a small amount of land. It’s a country whose people have a proud history of heroic resistance against severe injustice and state repression. But now around 500 Salvadorans leave their country every day with the goal of crossing 3 borders on a harrowing journey filled with danger to get to the U.S. Why?

El Salvador is consistently at or near the top in murder and violence rates in the Western Hemisphere. This is largely because of gangs backed by organized crime and powerful figures in the oligarchy that control turf in almost the whole country and have also taken root in neighboring countries like Honduras and Guatemala.

The ongoing violence in El Salvador is like another undeclared civil war that developed on the heels of the U.S.-backed civil war that ended in 1992 which left 75,000 Salvadorans dead. In addition to the large number of people who died during the Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s, the US-backed military dictatorship's sweeping repression also caused large numbers of Salvadorans to flee northward to the U.S. Huge Salvadoran communities developed in Los Angeles (which is referred to as El Salvador's '15th department' after the 14 departments of El Salvador) and several other areas of the U.S.

In much of the countryside in El Salvador today, there are mostly old people and women with small children. When people get old enough to leave, massive numbers of them head out for big cities or for the U.S. Think about how bad things must be that people will risk life and limb to get into Trump's U.S., where immigrants are so cruelly scapegoated and targeted for abuse and repression.

How did the gangs in El Salvador emerge and become so powerful? Where did they come from? They are literally made the in U.S. The two biggest gangs are named after streets in Los Angeles. They were formed in Los Angeles among young Salvadorans whose families fled the Salvadoran civil war and ended up in Los Angeles neighborhoods where gangs were already established. So the newcomer Salvadoran youth formed their own gangs to protect themselves.

Then in the 1990s the Clinton administration and California politicians thought it would help their electoral fortunes if they 'got tough' on crime and immigration. The federal “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996”, the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994” along with state-level laws like California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187 and “Three Strikes” crime bill, filled the jails with Latino and Black youth, and revved up mass deportations of Mexican and Central American immigrants.

Suddenly thousands of Salvadoran youth who grew up in the U.S. were deported to El Salvador, a country they barely knew. Among those sent back were some gang members. This sent Los Angeles gangs to a country devastated by war, with families shattered and split apart, with guns still aplenty, and no jobs or economic opportunity. The gangs spread like wildfire. So the Salvadoran gangs that Donald Trump likes to talk about as part of his racist anti-Latino and anti-immigrant diatribes were created right here in the U.S. and then spread to El Salvador via policies of mass deportation.

El Salvador was hit by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and then hit by a harsh earthquake that led to landslides that swallowed whole communities in 2001. It was then that the U.S. government under President Bush opened up Temporary Protective Status to Salvadorans without an immigration status in the U.S. so they wouldn't be sent back to a country devastated by a natural disaster on top of political and social disasters.

TPS is a humanitarian status that the president can designate when a country is in a state of turmoil and therefore sending people back there would likely put them in danger. The president regularly reviews countries with TPS status to decide whether to extend their status or not. The president has a lot of leeway to grant TPS and to end it. The fact that TPS has been renewed every 18 months for Salvadorans since 2001 is not officially because of the situation of violence and instability in the country, but that clearly has made it too unpalatable for either former Presidents Bush or Obama to end TPS and send hundreds of thousands of people back there. TPS has continued for Salvadorans for 17 years. But clearly Trump has no such qualms about sending hundreds of thousands of people to the most violent country in the hemisphere with few economic opportunities.

The Salvadoran economy is deeply dependent on the money that Salvadorans in the U.S. send back to their families in El Salvador. Ending TPS and then possibly deporting hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans will curtail that flow of money via remittances. This will have a huge negative impact on the economy there. According to the World Bank, Salvadorans in the U.S. send $4.5 billion a year to El Salvador, accounting for about 17% of the country’s GDP. What will be the effect of losing a big chunk of that money flow? It can only be assumed that it will drive more people toward illicit economies or toward trying to make the trek to the United States, fueling more waves of forced mass migration.

Another factor worth mentioning is that El Salvador is in its second term of having a leftist president from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a leftist party rooted in the guerilla movement of the 1980s. Before 2009, the oligarchy represented mainly by the ARENA party held a tight grip on all levers of power that had never been broken. The oligarchy still controls the economy, media, judiciary and the largest group in the legislative assembly. They use all those things to try to block any progressive measure the FMLN president tries to implement. And ARENA has been tenaciously fighting to get the presidency back as well as local control in many towns where the mayor and city councils are from the FMLN. Toward that end they wage a constant propaganda war against the FMLN.

In the years before the FMLN first won the presidency in 2009, ARENA always tried to scare people away from voting for the FMLN in every election by saying that if the leftist FMLN was in power then the U.S. government would punish Salvadorans by ending TPS, by cutting off remittances or taking other retribution against Salvadorans. The FMLN has been in the presidency since 2009 and none of that has happened. It was simply propaganda aimed at scaring people into continuing to vote for the oligarchy’s favored party.

But now that Trump is ending TPS, the Salvadoran right wing and the media they control is in a frenzy blaming the FMLN. They are saying this is happening because the FMLN doesn't simply ask "how high?" when the U.S. government says "jump." This can be a very powerful tool in ARENA's arsenal because the Salvadoran economy overall and many families are dependent on the money Salvadorans in the U.S. send back to their families in El Salvador since there are so few jobs or real economic opportunities.

But it is clear that the end of TPS for Salvadorans has nothing to do with the FMLN being in power. How could it, when Trump also ended TPS for several other countries with very different governments including Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua? Soon the Trump administration will decide whether to continue TPS for Syria, Nepal, Honduras, Yemen and Somalia. Given Trump’s consistent anti-Muslim, anti-Latino and anti-immigrant politics, it seems very likely he will end TPS for most if not all of those countries too.

The decision to end TPS for Salvadorans is a result of Trump and the part of the U.S. capitalist class he represents acting in what they think is in their economic and political interest. It is not a response to Salvadoran electoral politics. It's important to counter the propaganda from the Salvadoran right wing and their right-wing backers in the U.S. that they're using for electoral purposes. They are wielding this issue to try to damage the FMLN's prospects in El Salvador's legislative elections this year and the presidential election next year. That propaganda can have a real impact in El Salvador's elections.

In the U.S. the immigrant rights movement, labor movement, and all who believe in social justice must continue to fight for justice for Salvadoran immigrants. We must stand with them against Trump's dishonest and racist rhetoric and especially stand with them in fighting deportations and separation of families. The struggle is not over. There are 18 months to fight for a reversal of this decision on TPS or for legislative action to win permanent residency for Salvadorans who are currently on TPS. And we must continue to build the movement’s capacity to fight every deportation they may try to carry out.

While TPS has been very important for Salvadorans in the U.S., the fact is TPS wasn't enough. A large number of Salvadorans never qualified for TPS because there were many restrictions based on when people arrived in the U.S. and other factors. So we must continue to fight for legalization for all.

Legalization for all is the only just solution, given that U.S.-backed wars in Central America and unjust trade agreements with Mexico and Central America are the root cause of the forced mass migration of millions of people.

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