Prospects of Return to El Salvador Pose Difficult Choice

The Trump administration’s decision to rescind Temporary Protected Status for people from El Salvador (as well as Nicaragua, Sudan and Haiti) is confronting migrants with a terrible choice, explained Ramon Cardona in an interview with Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

On January 8, the Trump administration abruptly put an end to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans now living and working in the US. Many have been in the country for 15 or 20 years, and have established jobs and families. Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans now living in the U.S. may be affected. According to the the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Salvadorans, who account for about 60% of TPS recipients, will have until Sept. 9, 2019 to either adjust their status if eligible, make plans to return to El Salvador, or face deportation.

Artists work on a sign that reads “Deport Trump” during the presidential inauguration. January 20, 2017. (Photo: Chelsea Gilmour)

According to many immigrant and human rights groups, those being sent back will face harsh economic conditions and will probably end up unemployed. Some will be physically brutalized and possibly murdered in what has become one of the most violent countries in the world.

The following interview with Ramon Cardona, a former U.S.-based government official of the FMLN in El Salvador, and director of Centro Latino Cuzcatlan in Northern California, is part of a series for Consortiumnews.com on the multiple issues surrounding the battle for truly fair and humane immigration reform. “It’s shocking,” Cardona said. “It’s news that we kind of expected, but now that it’s official, it hurts.”

I spoke to Cardona on January 9th, 2018.

Dennis Bernstein: I think it would be good for you to tell us a little bit about your history, and how TPS came to pass and the impact of its sudden spiking by President Trump.

Ramon Cardona: I am an immigrant from El Salvador. I was brought to the United States as a teenager. Currently I run Centro Latino Cuzcatlan, a community-based agency providing immigration services mainly to the Latino community.

I have been involved with the Salvadoran solidarity movement since my university years back in the 1970s. I witnessed the first fight in Congress for protective status, which we eventually won in 1990 when Congress was made aware that Salvadoran deportees were being systematically labeled as subversives and murdered by the National Guard. Later, in 1997, the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act was passed which made these people legal permanent residents.

Today, the Salvadoran community receives shocking news when Homeland Security stated that TPS will no longer continue for Salvadorans, who are being given an 18-month reprieve to “put their things in order” and return home.

On average, these people have been living over twenty years in the United States. They have made their homes here, their children were born on U.S. territory. They contribute some $4.5 billion in remittances, which is nearly equal to the national budget of El Salvador last year. What they basically need is for their temporary status to be made permanent.

DB: How many people are affected and could you tell us about some of the people you know who will be directly impacted?

RC: 188,000 Salvadorans are TPS recipients and another 192,000 are U.S.-born children. By September 2019, many thousands of families have to make a horrendous decision, whether to revert back to undocumented status, lose their work permits and be vulnerable to deportation or return to a country rife with violence of every form, rampant unemployment and a dire lack of public services.  How will such a country be able to integrate tens of thousands of Salvadorans?

This decision by Homeland Security is based on the false claim that the conditions that prompted Temporary Protected Status back in 2001 have been overcome and the government is capable of integrating these people back into society. People are coming to us and asking us what they should do now, what is going to happen. Will they be able to obtain permanent legal residence? We are telling people to seek proper legal advice and find out what other immigration laws apply to their situation.

And we are advising them to join the struggle to pressure the U.S. Congress to once and for all recognize these people as productive members of society in the United States. A third of these people are paying on home mortgages. Many are business owners providing jobs in their communities. Every 18 months they have to pay a substantial amount of money to continue getting benefits and have to go through FBI background checks. Anyone who is found to have committed a crime loses all their benefits. It would be to everyone’s benefit for Congress to adopt a solution for permanent residency.

DB: Please take a moment to remind people of the conditions which forced this massive migration to the United States from El Salvador and the role that the United States played.

RC: The first large migration from El Salvador took place in the late 1970’s when the US-backed military government carried out a program of terror and repression in answer to a revolutionary pro-democracy movement. Military death squads went after union people, university students, teachers, organized public employees. Many people took to the mountains and joined the FMLN and many sought refuge outside El Salvador’s borders. This was in the late seventies and throughout the 1980’s.

A settlement was reached with the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] to address the fact that Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees were soliciting political asylum and seeing only one or two percent approval rates, while others coming from Poland or claiming to be fleeing the Sandinistas in Nicaragua were seeing upwards of 70% approval rates.

DB: This was at a time when priests were being killed, when Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot through the throat while saying mass. We saw nuns beaten, raped and killed. The U.S. government didn’t want people coming to the US and telling this story.

RC: That time was a part of our collective history. Many, many families had members who were murdered or disappeared.

DB: While the U.S. government was perpetrating this violence, we saw the emergence of the sanctuary movement here. The number of people coming across the border was a direct barometer of the intensity of the wars that the U.S. was prosecuting in El Salvador and Guatemala. This is the dirty history that the United States is still trying to cover up.

RC: And then we have to ask how the high levels of generalized violence in El Salvador today got started. It began with mass deportations of youngsters who grew up in Los Angeles, went to jail there, joined gangs there, and then got deported to a hopeless existence in El Salvador. All they could do was join a gang.

Again, this last year, El Salvador was the most violent country in Central America and one of the most violent countries throughout the world. Anyone coming to El Salvador from the United States is an automatic target because it is assumed they have money.

DB: Are you getting any support from members of Congress or the administration who oppose what Homeland Security is doing?

RC: There are two legislative initiatives, one presented by New York Congresswoman Lydia Velazquez, which already has the support of nearly 100 representatives, most of them Democrats. There is also a bipartisan initiative that was started by Carlos Curbelo, a Republican representative from Florida.

But we know that both initiatives are up against very powerful anti-immigrant forces in Congress and we also have a president who ran for office calling Latin American immigrants rapists and criminals.

DB: As regards El Salvador, there is a lot of blood on the hands of U.S. politicians and they have a responsibility now to act. What do you think is the best way for people to get involved now? I imagine you want the support of as many people as possible.

RC: One of our challenges is to reach out to all TPS’s and make sure they get proper legal counsel. When a U.S.-born child becomes 21 years of age, they can seek access to permanent residency. We have to speak directly to people to make sure they understand that there are legal options, even if they have already been charged with deportation orders.

There is also a national campaign that people can link to at www.savetps.com. We are going to Washington, D.C. between the 4th and the 6th of February, not just Salvadorans, but Nicaraguans and Haitians, who also benefit from TPS.  And of course we continue to lobby Congress to take responsibility for this situation.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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10 comments for “Prospects of Return to El Salvador Pose Difficult Choice

  1. Drew Hunkins
    January 25, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    Unfortunately the immigration issue is a sticky one for the progressive-left of which I consider myself a member. Obviously over the last few years the right-wing has been making substantial inroads with the struggling white (and African-American) working/middle class on this particular contentious issue.

    It’s axiomatic that a tight labor market is one the best friends to the working person in America. An “Employers’ Market” in which desperate un and under employed folks are scrambling for any job they can obtain, is a boon for the owning class and an albatross around the neck of working people across the nation.

    There’s little doubt that in certain industrial sectors, unfettered Latin American immigration (and south central Asian immigration in the I.T. sector) does indeed depress wages in the United States; this is why one of the key ruling class institutions: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is extremely pro massive immigration. As anyone with the sense of a billy goat knows: the Chamber of Commerce cares not at all whether American workers take home a family supporting living wage. The Chamber of Commerce has spent the last century lobbying against every single life affirming piece of legislation that can be construed as pro-worker.

    Though it makes some uneasy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little bit of economic nationalism, if of course civil liberties are strenuously upheld for all, and the militaristic-imperialist impulse is totally suppressed. After all, it’s largely due to foreign excursions by our Washington-Zio neo-liberal imperialists which have caused a massive wave of refugees seeking to flee the Anglo/Zio war zones for the West.

    It’s sometimes forgotten that the great humanitarian labor leader Cesar Chavez supported putting serious limits on unfettered immigration from Latin America. As an astute labor organizer he well knew that the death knell of struggling working people is a line of anxious potential workers willing to undercut them to feed and clothe their children.

    It’s now time that the progressive-left address this issue honestly, forthrightly and most importantly humanely by advocating for serious curbs on all types of immigration. The United States has far too many hopeless un and under employed American citizens in the hard pressed Rust Belt, Southwest, Deep South and Northeast to continue to neglect this provocative issue. With ever more automation, robotics and computerization on the near horizon, it’s ever more important the progressive-left take a stand for the American worker.

    Having pointed all this out, I want to emphasize that I have nothing against these fine folks who are desperate themselves, often fleeing lands in which Washington-Wall Street driven “free trade” agreements have decimated the workforce.

    • Zachary Smith
      January 25, 2018 at 7:43 pm

      When chaos within a nation is of their own creation, I tend to be rather hard-hearted about their situation. When I learn their misery has been caused by the US, that really gives me some trouble. There is a current essay here titled “A National Defense Strategy of Sowing Global Chaos” It seems this has been going on for a long, long time.

      For most of my life I bought into the story-line that the US was some kind of shining light on a hill. And that all us “Americans” really were exceptional. Even as a kid in a southern church I would see that indoctrination. Learning I was a sucker – one of the lambs in A Nation of Sheep, Governed by Wolves, and Owned by Pigs” has been a grave shock that I’m still not handling well.

      We always had our faults, but they seem to be multiplying. You may not hear of a black man or woman being lynched or burned alive anymore, but they’re dying at even greater rates at the hands of our Racists in Police Uniforms. The Pigs/Wolves in power are busy contaminating the water, privatizing the schools, and outlawing such Christian Charity as remains here.

      http://abc7.com/society/activists-arrested-in-sd-county-for-feeding-homeless-in-park/2952364/

      That’s just a sample, of course. That’s the way the entire nation is trending – mean, heartless, and cruel.

      As citizens continue in the process of being ground into the dirt themselves, this cycle is going to feed on itself.

    • john wilson
      January 26, 2018 at 6:11 am

      Logically, Drew, we should chuck out all the robotic systems as well as they have taken far more jobs from the working and middle class than any immigrant has. Just think of how many jobs have been lost to automation over the last 30 years or so. If the hard pressed working and middle class think all their problems will be solved once the immigrants have gone, then they are living in a fantasy world. Automation is forging ahead at an exponential pace, so having paid employment will be unique rather than the norm. I don’t know what you do for work, Drew, but don’t count on it lasting for much longer.

      • Drew Hunkins
        January 26, 2018 at 11:10 am

        It’s sometimes forgotten that the great humanitarian labor leader Cesar Chavez supported putting serious limits on unfettered immigration from Latin America. As an astute labor organizer he well knew that the death knell of struggling working people is a line of anxious potential workers willing to undercut them to feed and clothe their children.

        It’s now time that the progressive-left address this issue honestly, forthrightly and most importantly humanely by advocating for serious curbs on all types of immigration. The United States has far too many hopeless un and under employed American citizens in the hard pressed Rust Belt, Southwest, Deep South and Northeast to continue to neglect this provocative issue. With ever more automation, robotics and computerization on the near horizon, it’s ever more important the progressive-left take a stand for the American worker.

        Having pointed all this out, I want to emphasize that I have nothing against these fine folks who are desperate themselves, often fleeing lands in which Washington-Wall Street driven “free trade” agreements have decimated the workforce.

  2. godenich
    January 25, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    “They contribute some $4.5 billion in remittances, which is nearly equal to the national budget of El Salvador last year. ”

    I’m afraid monies circulating out of the US economy via remittances is not good for the US economy and working taxpayers, with all due sympathy and respect for migrants and their family relatives left behind.

    Immigration pressures on the US economy seem to have started after WWI. Free immigration to the US ended in 1924[1]. Immigration law was revised in 1965[2]. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia,

    “The new law maintained the per-country limits, but also created preference visa categories that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents. The bill set numerical restrictions on visas at 170,000 per year, with a per-country-of-origin quota. However, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and “special immigrants” had no restrictions.”

    Illegal immigration seems to have become enough of an economic problem by the 1980’s that an additional law[3] was passed.

    A debate may, perhaps, be on the nature of “special immigrants” or a further curtailment on future immigration until the US economy can absorb the current excess.

    [1] Immigration Act of 1924 | wikipedia
    [2] Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 | wikipedia
    [3] Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 | wikipedia

  3. john wilson
    January 26, 2018 at 6:00 am

    Its all very well telling or informing these people of their legal options, but many are quite poor and just don’t have the kind of money that any kind of legal challenge would cost. We have a similar situation over here in the UK where people from EU countries have come to England, settled, married and have jobs and businesses, who may find themselves having to return to the continental countries of their origin once we leave the EU under the Brexit arrangement. The same will apply to British citizens who have done the same in other EU countries. In a fair and just society anyone living and working legally in another country should automatically be given a passport after a period of time and children born there should get nationality status straight away.

    • godenich
      January 26, 2018 at 8:27 am

      Culture is precious, but yes, I believe social mobility and the four freedoms of civic and economic life are good form within society and for considerate exchange with other societies.

  4. Loretta
    January 26, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    The trick is to keep the well-adjusted and positive contributors and send back the criminals and spongers. There HAS TO BE a merit-based system by which the good immigrants receive preferential treatment while the useless ones are expelled.

    • Joe Tedesky
      January 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      Loretta your comment is well received by my 3 friends from El Salvador. During this past election when Trump would rally his base by declaring he would deport the ‘bad guy immigrant’ my Salvadorian friends said, yeah Mr Trump and we will help you to do it. Seriously, these Salvadorian’s I know feel that way, and why, because the bad guys Trump spoke about live in my Salvadorian friend’s neighborhood. Yes, sometimes bridges are crossed beyond what the political correctness is though to be.

      At this moment the Salvadorian’s I spoke about, are working with lawyers to see if they may become accepted into the U.S. as full time citizens. They work very hard to be self made. These Salvadorian’s pay for their own healthcare, and never ask for anything for free from our Federal Government, or their employer. In fact during the hurricane relief effort that went on in Florida, these same Salvadorian’s would not allow their families to accept any free charitable hand outs. I wish you all could meet these fine individuals, because you would then see that if we Americans would accept these Salvadorian’s I just spoke about, then you would see what a plus they would be to America to have them as U.S. Citizens. Joe

    • tina
      January 27, 2018 at 12:01 am

      hey, Loretta , I bet not one single person In your ancestral/ immigrant family was questionable. I think each and every one of your ancestors was squeaky clean, wish we all could be like you , Loretta

Comments are closed.