El Salvador's migration is marked by a history of civil unrest, foreign intervention and deep social inequalities. With about 6.4 million people, the country is the smallest in Central America by area and still the most densely populated. A stagnant economy, natural disasters, and high levels of various forms of violence, in part as a result of US involvement in the region and US immigration policies over the last three decades, as well as the Salvadoran government's continued failure to address systemic social issues . they have driven increasing numbers of people to leave the country over the past two decades.
Over the past century, Salvadorans have moved all over the world, although today most reside in the United States. El Salvador's nearly 1.4 million immigrants, who make up one-fifth of the population, represent the second-largest Latino group in the United States after Mexicans. The United States and El Salvador share deep economic, military and political ties and are in an intertwined migratory context, connecting communities in both countries.
The precarious legal status of many Salvadoran migrants makes them particularly vulnerable to the impact of changes in US and regional immigration policies. Along with immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala, Salvadorans have been heavily represented among families and unaccompanied minors who have arrived at the southwestern border in recent years and faced increased law enforcement there and in Mexico. Furthermore, the Trump administration announced in 2018 that it would not renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans, leaving an estimated 195,000 beneficiaries in limbo as they will now likely leave the country by September 2019 or risk deportation.
This article traces the history of Salvadoran immigration and emigration, presents the Salvadoran immigrant population in the United States with a focus on their treatment under US immigration policy, and examines emerging and current policy issues affecting these migrants and their affected families.
Battles for land and popular movement
El Salvador's current status as a major source country for migrants and asylum seekers stems from decades of deep political and socioeconomic inequalities that have made life difficult for most Salvadorans.
After El Salvador gained independence from Spain in 1821, its new leaders fought for the country's economic development and saw international markets as the key to success. Migration to the country during and immediately after the colonial period was mainly Spaniards and, to a lesser extent, other Europeans, with a smaller flow of blacks along the Caribbean coasts of neighboring countries. By 1860, El Salvador had become a major coffee exporter. But coffee production came with a significant redistribution of land, which benefited the elites of the time. Dependence on a large export would also make the country's economy vulnerable to small fluctuations in the world coffee market.
Between 1880 and 1890, the government privatized communal lands where many indigenous Salvadorans lived to make coffee production more efficient and profitable. Although communities organized against land privatization, the government favored wealthy, local European immigrants.villainFamilies (or mestizos) who developed the land converted these lands into coffee plantations. Some local elites had a monopoly on coffee exports and the displaced peasants, mostly of indigenous origin, became workers.
By the late 1920s, coffee accounted for over 90% of El Salvador's export earnings, and rising prices brought prosperity. But prices fell during the Great Depression and financial turmoil hit the country. Wages fell and farmers who had already lost their land to privatization were left unemployed. Small farmers were unable to repay loans and lost their plots, further facilitating the concentration of land in the hands of a few.
Just a few months after President Arturo Araujo was elected in 1931, a military coup brought General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez to power. In 1932, peasants and students organized to demand political freedom, economic reform and land redistribution. In response, the government ordered the deaths of thousands of Salvadorans, most of them indigenous farmers. Known as La Matanza, this event helped cement power in the hands of the business elite and established the country's military authority for decades to come.
beginnings of migration
The elite military-economic alliance staunchly opposed reforms, even minor economic or political reforms, a position it would maintain for decades. Wages were low and working conditions harsh, motivating tens of thousands of Salvadorans to emigrate.
An estimated 25,000 Salvadorans migrated to Honduras in the 1930s, mostly to work on banana plantations. That number has increased as access to land and decent wages has continued to decline in El Salvador; In the 1940s, around 40,000 Salvadorans lived in Honduras and by 1969 there were around 350,000. Salvadorans also worked on the Panama Canal and in American shipyards, mainly in San Francisco, during World War II. In addition, rural workers moved internally to work on coffee plantations. These changes helped to reshape Salvadoran families, as many women stayed at home and played the dual roles of breadwinner and caregiver, while men moved to other parts of the country and abroad.
In the 1960s, economic reforms brought significant changes to El Salvador's social structure. The Salvadoran economy expanded, but profit growth also led to social inequality that cemented class distinctions. Additionally, the Alliance for Progress, a US-based program created in response to the perceived threat of communism in Latin America, expanded funding for education, health and housing, but also focused on "security concerns" in the region. , which provides US economic and military aid to El Salvador.
In 1969, amid rising tensions with El Salvador, culminating in a five-day war, Honduras announced plans to evict foreign ranchers from their land. As a result, up to 300,000 Salvadoran farmers were expelled from Honduras. This return migration has increased economic and social pressures in El Salvador. In 1970, returnees were among landless peasants facing unemployment rates of up to 45% and stagnant wages. In 1971, about 41% of Salvadoran peasants were landless. The economic heyday came to an abrupt end when the price of coffee fell again in the 1970s.
Despite these upheavals, wealth continued to grow and became increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leading to even greater social inequality. The conditions were ripe for the emergence of civic associations and political organizations on both the left and right.
Civil war fuels mass displacement
In the mid-1970s, social unrest erupted into open conflict that culminated in a bloody 12-year civil war. The United States played a crucial role in providing ruling governments with unprecedented military aid, training, and advice. The war displaced more than 1 million Salvadorans, about a fifth of the population at the time, both within the country and throughout Central America and Mexico, the United States, Canada and Australia. Neighboring countries, including Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, set up refugee camps to house Salvadorans fleeing the war.
About 75,000 people were killed during the war, in addition to the thousands who were tortured and disappeared; According to a UN Truth Commission report, more than 85% of these atrocities were committed by the government. This extreme level of state violence and ongoing terror changed the country's social fabric forever, even after the 1992 peace accords that ended the war were signed. El Salvador was awash with weapons and psychosocial trauma leading to a "militarization of the spirit," in the words of Jesuit scholar and murdered priest Ignacio Martín-Baró. Meanwhile, socioeconomic structures remained intact and inequality continued to deepen.
In the years after the war, El Salvador implemented the neoliberal policies that the US Agency for International Development and later the International Monetary Fund and World Bank foisted on developing countries in return for loans. These policies contributed to a drastic reduction in social spending, mainly on education, and led to the privatization of institutions, including national banks and public utilities. Once again, the United States played a key role in supporting privatization.
In January 2001, the country adopted the US dollar as its official currency, contributing to El Salvador's lowest growth rate in the last 60 years. It has also contributed to making daily life more expensive for most Salvadorans and making basic needs almost impossible to meet. This economic turmoil has left limited options for young people who grew up in a militarized society surrounded by daily violence. Increasingly, Salvadoran youth became involved with gangs, as these groups offered them financial opportunities and social resources that the government continued to systematically deny.
Poverty and violence persist
Without changing the country's unequal economic structure, the peace accords have not improved the lives of most Salvadorans. The quarter-century since then has seen deteriorating living conditions, rising inequality and an economy artificially propped up by remittances that Salvadorans abroad, particularly in the United States, regularly send back to their families. These remittances, which totaled $5 billion in 2017, or about a fifth of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), according to World Bank data, help keep Salvador's economy afloat. In some years, remittances come to represent two or three times the public social security expenditure in the country. At a less aggregated level, remittances directly guarantee the survival of migrant families. But most Salvadorans, particularly those without family members who send remittances from abroad, remain poor.
The Civil War left behind a militarized society where the majority of the population could not earn enough to survive, creating fertile recruiting ground for drug cartels and various organized crime groups. Furthermore, deportations of Salvadorans from the United States, beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in the 1990s, significantly exacerbated violent tendencies in the country. Among the deportees were young Salvadorans who formed gangs in the United States - their way of life in inhospitable areas - and contributed to a perfect storm that allowed these activities to spread to El Salvador.
Today, the level of violence is even higher than during the war and has affected entire communities. The vast majority of victims are poor, working-class Salvadorans who have to live daily in some of the most dangerous areas and cannot afford the private security companies that protect the rich.
In particular, the context of violence seen today, which can easily be explained as “gang violence” or as a result of the deportation of gang members from US prisons, has deeper roots in rising trends in inequality that began decades ago. These trends include the continued accumulation of wealth by a select few, the implementation of neoliberal policies that have reduced public spending, and relentless opposition to social reforms that would benefit most Salvadorans, who now look to migration as the only option for a living. the survival. This context contributed to a large flow of Salvadorans leaving the country, which had a direct impact on the economy: the workforce was reduced and remittances became one of the largest sources of foreign exchange.
Treatment of Salvadorans under US immigration policy
About half a million Salvadorans fled to the United States in the 1980s, but only 2% of asylum applications made by Salvadorans during the war were approved. Due to the heavy involvement of the US in the Salvadoran conflict, which provided extensive military support and assistance to the Salvadoran government, the US government was reluctant to grant protection to these asylum seekers as this would be contrary to its own foreign policy.
Without refugee status, most Salvadorans who fled the war and arrived in the United States were treated as unauthorized immigrants. In 1985, Central American immigrant organizations and churches sued the US government to protest asylum policies for Salvadorans (and Guatemalans fleeing their own bloody civil war). This process, later known as theAmerican Baptist Churches v. dornburgh(ABC), gave these immigrants the opportunity to reapply for asylum and receive a fair hearing. ABC also made sure they received work permits while their cases were being decided.
Under pressure from community and religious organizations and appeals from Salvadoran leaders, the United States included a clause in the Immigration Act of 1990 that recognizes the status of those seeking protection without contradicting asylum policies. Known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), it allows foreign citizens of certain countries to live and work in the United States if they cannot safely return due to conflict or natural disasters; Salvadorans were the first to benefit.
From the beginning, TPS was conceived as a temporary program with a maximum duration of 18 months (although a country's designation can be extended). Unlike asylum or refugee status, TPS itself does not provide a route to permanent residency or other protections that formally recognized asylum seekers or refugees may receive.
By 1992, approximately 187,000 Salvadorans had registered with the TPS. The TPS to El Salvador ended that year and was replaced by the Deferred Forced Departure, which maintained temporary residency and work permits for Salvadorans until September 1995, allowing some Salvadorans (along with Guatemalans and people from former Soviet countries) who settled before September 1990 they entered the United States and applied for asylum in the ABC case, the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans and others received green cards under this provision.
In 2001, after two deadly earthquakes hit El Salvador just two weeks apart, the United States redesignated El Salvador to TPS and gave Salvadorans already living in the country the opportunity to apply for such protection. The designation was renewed nine consecutive times until the Trump administration announced that TPS for El Salvador would end in September 2019. As such, Salvadoran TPS holders have lived continuously in the United States since at least 2001, most for at least half of their lives, actively participated in the economy, raised families and built communities.
In addition to the TPS, Salvadorans also participate in the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) at high fees. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) estimates that 465,000 Salvadorans live undocumented in the United States, making them the third largest unauthorized group. As of January 2018, nearly 26,000 unauthorized young Salvadorans were enrolled in the DACA program, or 62% of those eligible. According to MPI estimates, this is the second highest participation rate after the Mexicans.
Given the precarious nature of temporary protection programs, the small number of paths to permanent status, and the reluctance of the US government to grant asylum to Salvadorans (past and present), immigrant status has been a central feature of the experience. of Salvadoran immigration. Many Salvadorans have had to migrate or seek asylum without permission.
Contemporary migration from El Salvador
Salvadoran migration to the United States has continued to increase over the past two decades, fueled by violence, inequality, and poverty at home and fueled by the prospect of a better life in the United States or reunion with family there. The Salvadoran immigrant population nearly tripled between 1990 and 2016 (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Population of Salvadorans in the United States, 1960-2016
source: Tabela do Migration Policy Institute (MPI) do US Census Bureau, American Community Surveys (ACS) 2010 e 2016 e dados do Censo Decenal de 2000; Dados de 1960 a 1990 vêm de Campbell J. Gibson e Emily Lennon, “Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 1990” (Working Paper No. 29, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 1999 ). ). ),Available.
Smaller numbers of Salvadorans live elsewhere, mostly in North and Central America, Australia and Europe. In addition to the US, the most important host countries are Canada (51,000 Salvadorans), Guatemala (20,000), Costa Rica (14,000), Italy (13,000) and Australia (12,000), according to UN estimates in mid-2017.
For most Salvadorans seeking a lull from the violence, migration itself presents another layer of danger. This trip involves a long journey overland and crosses several international borders. Most Salvadorans cannot obtain a US visa; they are often unable to obtain sponsorship from their employer, and their family members in the United States often lack the financial or legal capacity to sponsor them.
Crossing Mexico overland has increasingly become one of the world's most treacherous migratory ventures. Central Americans fleeing the civil wars of the 1980s described the dangers of transiting through Mexico as a "crucible". In 2010, Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights reported that an average of 1,600 migrants (mostly Central Americans) were kidnapped each day, and about 10% of the 140,000 people who transit Mexico annually died on the way.
The route is particularly dangerous for female migrants: health experts estimate that six out of 10 Central American women and girls are raped on their way through Mexico. These conditions have dramatically worsened as the most vulnerable migrants transit through Mexico and drug cartels and smugglers work together to traffic people and drugs.
The UN General Assembly released a report by its Special Rapporteur to the Human Rights Council in 2017 on arbitrary executions of refugees and migrants in transit in Mexico, pointing to collaboration between state and non-state actors as responsible for killings, extortions, kidnappings and a general regime. of impunity
Unaccompanied minors and family migration
In 2014, US officials and the media noted an increase in unaccompanied youth, primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, but also Mexico, and families who came to the US to escape violence and poverty in their home countries.
Although the migration of young Salvadorans is nothing new, in recent years an increasing number of young people have left the country due to limited educational opportunities, lack of economic opportunities, vulnerability of living far from their parents, in a context of endemic gang violence and the large number of parents migrating. Some young immigrants are parents and move north to support their own children. In FY 2014, approximately 68,500 unaccompanied migrant children were apprehended at the US Southwest border, a 77% increase over the previous year. Of these, approximately 16,400 were Salvadorans, a nearly three-fold increase from fiscal 2013 (see Table 1). In addition, approximately 68,400 families of all nationalities were arrested in the 2014 fiscal year, more than four times the number in the previous year.
Table 1. El Salvadoran Unaccompanied Child and Family Unit Arrests at the US-Mexico Border, FY 2012-18
Use: Household data is not available for El Salvador prior to FY 2014. FY18 figures are incomplete and represent migrants detained between October 2017 and June 2018.
source: US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), „Southwest Border Household and UAC Applications“ (Technical Sheets, CBP, Various Years), abgerufen am 6. August 2018,Available.
In response to this increase, the US government has stepped up border enforcement efforts, opening several private detention centers for families (mostly women and their children) while their asylum cases are pending. The US government began releasing unaccompanied minors to family members in the United States due to a plea deal that required childcare in the “most restrictive environment” possible.
In addition, under pressure from the US government, Mexico implemented a series of securitization initiatives on its border with Guatemala and throughout its territory. In 2014, it launched the Fronteira Sul Program, which made crossing this border difficult and life-threatening. Mexico's new policy, which closely mirrors US border policy, has pushed Salvadorans and other Central American migrants into difficult and dangerous territory.
Development of migration policy in El Salvador
Since the 2000s, the Salvadoran government has created a series of programs to help Salvadoran migrants abroad and promote their rights and protection. The government recognizes the significant contributions made by Salvadoran migrants, as their remittances, investments and skills represent a myriad of resources needed by the country. In 2018, he successfully lobbied the US government to reassign El Salvador to the TPS and actively lobbied Salvadoran immigrant communities to remind beneficiaries to re-enroll in the program. In 2013, El Salvador passed a law allowing expatriates from abroad to vote in the country's national elections.
The government has also turned its attention to engaging the diaspora for development purposes. In 1999, the Social Investment Fund for Local Development (FISDL) began focusing on Salvadorans abroad, encouraging diaspora organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local associations to become involved in development projects in El Salvador. The program contributed to the construction of schools, recreational facilities, and health centers.
More recently, in the face of increasing deportations, the government and non-governmental organizations have developed programs to reintegrate returnees and ensure they find jobs that match their work experience. The country's growing call centers, especially those requiring English skills, have attracted many deportees. The fact is, El Salvador's economy cannot accommodate all returning migrants, leaving many planning to return to the United States soon, especially those who have left their children, spouses and parents behind.
Salvadorans in the United States Today
About 1,387,000 Salvadorans lived in the United States in 2016, making them the largest immigrant group from Central America, according to US Census Bureau estimates. The Salvadoran diaspora is approximately 2,195,000, including those born in the United States of Salvadoran parents.
Most Salvadorans with TPS have been in the country for two decades or more, and all have been present since at least 2001, as required by the program. During that time, they've settled into communities across the country. Just over half are men and around 41% of all Salvadorans with STP are married. About 86 percent have children and about 60 percent have children in the United States, many of whom were born in the United States.
The vast majority of Salvadoran men and women with SPD are employed: 94% and 82%, respectively. TPS Salvadoran work experiences vary, but most work full-time jobs of 40 hours a week or more. Men tend to work in construction, transport, and office cleaning. The most common jobs for women are cleaning and childcare.
Salvadorans with TPS are active in their communities: almost 30% are involved in community organizations, churches, schools, labor organizations or sports teams. Most TPS owners (78 percent) say that after receiving TPS they get a better job and feel more secure for themselves (67 percent) and their families (about 38 percent).
problem not horizon
Building on the policies of previous administrations, the Trump administration has embarked on a series of policy decisions that directly affect the Salvadoran population already residing in the United States, as well as their families and potential migrants in their home country. The TPS for Salvadorans ended, a decision that will transform those who do not return to El Salvador from quasi-legals with work permits to unauthorized immigrants.
This situation has serious implications for Salvadorans and their families in the United States, as well as their relatives back home, and is likely to destroy El Salvador's prospects for future stability. While most of the nearly 200,000 TPS holders will likely choose to remain in the United States and go undercover, the end of the TPS designation could result in the voluntary return or deportation of some to a country beset by violence and the volatility of economic hardship they did not they were willing to receive, while the remittances that had helped keep the country afloat since the end of the civil war were drastically reduced. It could also mean family separation, as returning Salvadorans decide whether to make the difficult decision to leave their children with US citizens.
Additionally, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has ruled that gangs and domestic violence are no longer grounds for asylum, making it difficult for many Salvadorans to obtain protection in the United States. And the government has implemented a “zero tolerance” policy at the border, prosecuting unauthorized crossers in federal courts. This policy resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents, mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
As a result of these decisions, protections granted to some Salvadorans under previous governments, such as TPS or asylum, have all but disappeared.
In 2017, the Salvadoran government launched the National Policy for the Protection and Development of Salvadoran Migrants and their Families. This policy aims to meet the needs of Salvadorans at all stages of their migration journey, from pre-departure through migration, destination and return. It remains to be seen how this structure will be implemented and what it might mean for Salvadorans along the way, whether abroad or on return.
The factors that drove many Salvadorans to migrate over the past three decades persist and may even have intensified, and the forces that drew them to the United States remain strong. It is therefore likely that, despite the dangers of travel and the many obstacles that await them when entering the United States, Salvadorans will continue to migrate, despite the dangers of travel, barring major changes in the country.
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