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What's Next For Salvadorans In The U.S.

Jan 13, 2018
Originally published on January 13, 2018 5:12 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Condemnation continues of President Trump's profane language about several foreign countries, using an especially crude word. And a warning - you're about to hear that word. At a bipartisan meeting with legislators on Thursday, the president asked why the United States would want immigrants from, quote, "shithole countries." Until last week, roughly 200,000 Salvadorans in the U.S. held temporary protected status. That was put in place after the devastating earthquakes hit that country in 2001. But the White House says it'll end those protections and give Salvadorans until September 2019 to return to El Salvador or face deportation.

Carlos Dada is the founder of El Faro, a news site based in San Salvador, and joins us from there. Carlos, thanks so much for being with us.

CARLOS DADA: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: What's the reaction in El Salvador been to the president's comments and, for that matter, your personal reaction?

DADA: (Laughter) Well, I must say those are not the words you would expect from a stable genius or a statesman. As you can imagine, there's been a general reaction of indignation in El Salvador. And it's been the same, I hear, in the other countries he called names. The government has sent what we call a letter of protest, demanding respect, to Washington. But people are feeling insulted by Trump's words. And they come particularly painful after his government declared the end of TPS for Salvadorans. But that's it. It doesn't change anything in these countries besides the image of the United States and especially the respect for the presidency of your country.

SIMON: As it's seen there in El Salvador, what would the effect be of 200,000 Salvadorans perhaps returning?

DADA: Well, that's a different story because that's a new earthquake for the country. We have no way of handling the return of 200,000 Salvadoran families back to a country where there's no decent jobs for them. There's high levels of violence. This is a very poor country, so this is a decision that doesn't make sense for anyone, not even for the United States. And if you ask me, I think it's a cruel and an immoral decision.

SIMON: What about the argument that - look, it was temporary status and this was 2001 and 17 years is long temporary status?

DADA: Well, the thing is that during the two last administrations, which is a Republican administration of George W. Bush and the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, both administrations renewed every time the temporary protected status for Salvadorans. And the argument was not that the effects of that earthquake remained here. The argument was precisely that this country cannot handle the return of 200,000 families. And that has not changed.

SIMON: Can you give us some idea of what I'll refer to as the kind of daily earthquake of crime is like in El Salvador in many parts of the country?

DADA: We rank among the highest homicide rates in the world. And mostly, the responsibility of the war between the 18th Street gang and the Mara Salvatrucha. These gangs came to El Salvador through the massive deportations that the United States started just after the end of our civil war. And they grew up so fast in a country that had thousands of weapons on the streets. And so they just grew to a point that we can't control them anymore.

SIMON: But those are gangs that began in the United States.

DADA: Those are gangs that began in the streets of California. And Salvadorans joined the gangs because they left this country running away from the civil war that was, in a good part, financed by the United States government.

SIMON: How dependent is El Salvador on the money that comes in from Salvadorans living in the U.S. and who send it back home?

DADA: Remittances are one of the main economy stabilizers of this country. Almost a fifth of our GDP comes from those. So if you see, Scott, in the case of the TPS, when I say it doesn't even make sense for the United States, it's because you have - 90 percent of those that are under the TPS program have formal employment in the United States. They pay their taxes. They have bank loans in the United States to pay for their houses that they are buying. So these are exemplary immigrants, and now you're pushing them to become either illegal aliens or to come back to a country that they can't recognize anymore after two decades.

SIMON: Carlos Dada of El Faro in San Salvador, thanks very much for being with us.

DADA: Thank you, Scott.

EDITOR'S NOTE: NPR has decided in this case to spell out the vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our standard for use of offensive language (http://ethics.npr.org/i-respect/using-potentially-offensive-language/). It is “absolutely integral to the meaning and spirit of the story being told.” Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.