As the crisis confronting immigrants attempting to enter the US continues to reach greater and greater proportions, it is important to understand why this mass migration is occurring and the role the United States government played in causing a tragedy that has displaced thousands of people as a result of causing widespread instability in the Latin American region. Nowhere is the problem more visible than in the small country of El Salvador, which has endured decades of political strife and is now in the midst of a large-scale humanitarian crisis caused by widespread gang activity stemming from the mass deportation of many Salvadorans from the United States in the late 1990s.
The current violence in El Salvador is a direct result of these deportations, as thousands of individuals who had been initiated into the gang lifestyle prevalent in U.S. prisons returned home with their own unique brand of organized crime modeled after notorious American street gangs like the Bloods and the Crips. Numerous studies tracking deportation rates from the United States and crime rates in El Salvador have proven a direct correlation between an increase of criminal deportations of individuals from the United States back to their native countries and a subsequent spike in crime in El Salvador.
According to the report El Salvador’s Politics of Perpetual Violence, published by International Crisis Group, “Although the Salvadoran state has developed a series of strategies for violence prevention, its mainly repressive efforts over the past fifteen years have checked the influence of these alternative approaches. It should now implement plans to prevent crime, rehabilitate gang members and spur development in marginalized communities. Most urgently, El Salvador will require protection from the turbulence that U.S. mass deportations could provoke.” American politicians must realize that their actions and decisions with regards to immigration and deportation policy have long-reaching and dire consequences not only for those individuals deported or denied entry into the U.S. but for the future of entire countries like El Salvador.
This is more important now than ever, as the imminent end of Temporary Protected Status for Salvadoran refugees in America looms like a dark shadow over the heads of not only those refugees who will have to leave the United States, but also over an entire country that lacks the resources and programs to support these returning Salvadorans. This situation grimly mirrors the circumstances of the late 1990s, when the United States government began deporting thousands of Salvadorans back to their home country, among them many members of the dreaded MS-13 or similar groups such as the 18th Street Gang (Barrio 18). Of the nearly 195,000 Salvadorans currently receiving Temporary Protected Status, nearly 193,000 are children who would be placed in a very precarious position upon return to El Salvador as a result of intimidation, recruitment, and victimization at the hands of gangs.
The vast majority of gang members in El Salvador come from extremely marginalized communities and have been raised among unspeakable poverty with little to no formal education or training that would provide them with tools to succeed in any other line of work. The majority have never been legitimately employed, and most come from families that have been broken up as a result of violence, immigration, and deportations. Given the staggering number of children being separated from their families at the border, one has to wonder whether this new immigration crisis happening in the United States will lead to a new generation of children severely at risk of becoming gang members as a result of the Trump administration’s policy of family separation.
The policy of adopting a mano duro (iron fist) approach to combatting gang violence has greatly exacerbated the problem and worsened the situation, however, this strategy is endorsed by both the right-wing hardliners who make up the political party of ARENA (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista/National Republican Alliance) and former guerrilla fighter leftists of the FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional/ Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). These groups have been indoctrinated by US politicians pursuing domestic and foreign policy outcomes that fail to acknowledge the significant role the United States played in creating this problem. Further, both of these political parties are mired in nepotism, with the same individuals being in charge of their respective parties for decades.
Salvadoran journalists have also revealed the existence of death squads operating within the National Civilian Police who have been responsible for hundreds of extrajudicial executions.
In the past, migration northward has been in search of economic opportunity, whereas now these individuals are refugees fleeing from violence and bloodshed, leading to a true humanitarian crisis that must be addressed. As the threat of a modern mass deportation crisis leading to even more violence and instability becomes more likely every day, it remains to be seen whether the governments of El Salvador and the United States can work together to find a comprehensive solution to the problem.