Every country compares itself with its neighbors. In El Salvador, America is perceived as synonymous with progress, hope and opportunity in the face of a local absence of opportunity. So, after a history of civil war, earthquakes, or overall insecurity that has dominated the Salvadoran streets for almost two decades, success stories of new lives in America are particularly influential. It is no wonder why El Salvadorans are looking to migrate to the US.
Because of El Salvador’s colored history and insecurity for locals, around 190,000 Salvadoran citizens have been granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by the US. These “tepesianos” have established significant ties with their communities: 30% of them have a mortgage, many have started their own companies, joined various associations, social groups and religious entities, and their children are estimated at 192,000 people who also have American citizenship. However, now these Salvadoran’s are facing the termination of this critical program. However, El Salvador is largely unprepared to receive 190,000 citizens, on top of the fact that living conditions have not improved significantly. In fact, in 2016 violence reached an all time high when 6,656 people were murdered; El Salvador gained status as the most dangerous territory in the Americas, surpassing Honduras and Guatemala.
The migratory flow out of El Salvador as a result of violence has two main characteristics: first, an individual or family threatened by gangs tends to move to another part of the country, abandoning their home and their belongings. Then, once uprooted, they face the difficult task of finding employment. For some families, this happens two or three times, each time presenting this individual or family with further and further economic instability. This is also in part due to the lack of employment opportunities and poor working conditions. Over time, these factors build up and populations ultimately feel forced into migration to the US.
With the recent TPS decision and the continuation of migration out of El Salvador, many have face deportation or repatriation to El Salvador before ever making it to the US. Unfortunately, there are few opportunities for re-entrants. However, independent initiatives, like those of USCRI’s Central America office, are trying to help.
USCRI’s goal in El Salvador is focused on helping young returnees between the ages of 18 and 25 to find employment; unemployment is highest for this demographic. Eunice Olán, director for USCRI Central America, affirms that so far “we have managed to serve 273 young people in 2017, of which 88 were women. All of them received professional training, or they agreed to a job where we paid half the minimum wage and the company in question contributed the other half… ”
Despite efforts, though, the impending return of hundreds of thousands of TPS holders is an overwhelming prospect for the country and for assistance programs alike. Olán is hopeful, though, “I do not think El Salvador is prepared, but it is obliged to prepare… we have the capacity and the strength to move forward.” USCRI is hopeful that new organizations and efforts will arise in light of events.
Read a full report about current conditions in El Salvador here.