An earlier version of this editorial appeared in Chile’s Prensa Irreverente.
When Trump ran for the presidency in 2016, every voter knew, though some pretended not to know, what he meant by “Make America Great Again.” The message was driven home with his campaign promise of building “a great, great wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowing to make Mexico pay for it. The “again” in the now infamous slogan means pulling the United States back to the 1950s, when apartheid still reigned from North to South, de facto and de jure, respectively.
Trump’s motto may imply dragging the country even further back, to the 1880s, when the influx of Catholics, Jews and others not of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant stock began pouring onto the Yankee shore in waves; or to the 1850s, before the abolition of slavery.
Heading to the voting booths in the fall of 2016, most people understood–though, again, many played dumb–that Trump was the anti-immigrant candidate. In fact, his nativist platform was a main factor in his winning the Oval Office.
So immigrants and their allies were prepared when, in September of last year, Trump removed the protection against deportation for those who immigrated here as children illegally, which had been granted by former President Obama. (DACA recipients will “begin losing their temporary work permits in March at the rate of nearly 1,000 per day,” reports the Washington Post.) Likewise 60,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans were ready last November when Trump stripped them of their Temporary Protected Status designation, given to those immigrant groups who cannot return to their homelands due to the chaos unleashed by a natural disaster, warfare or what have you.
Only days earlier the decision to extend Temporary Protected Status for 57,000 Honduran immigrants so angered the White House that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, the retired Marine four-star general and former commander of U.S. Southern Command (in charge of U.S. military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean), phoned the interim secretary of homeland security and pressured her to reconsider.
Since Trump took the oath of office last January, arrests made by immigrant enforcement officers have risen by 40 percent, with the number of refugees taken in sinking to its lowest level since the Carter administration. And earlier this month Trump was forced to ask Congress for $18 billion to build his “great wall,” as President Peña Nieto has repeatedly stated the Mexican government would not lend one centavo to the project.
Now Trump has taken aim at Salvadorans–at around 200,000 individuals, by far the largest group of immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status. On January 8 the Trump administration revoked the temporary residency permits of said Salvadorans, who have been living and thriving in the United States since a pair of earthquakes shook their country in 2001. The government’s announcement gives Salvadorans until September 2019 to leave or secure some other lawful way of remaining in the United States.
One can’t be sure what effects the influx of so many returning citizens will have on El Salvador, a country which, with more than 60 murders per 100,000 salvadoreños last year–and almost twice as many homicides today as in 2001, the year of the earthquakes–is arguably the deadliest in not only Central America but the entire hemisphere. (In 2015 the country recorded more than 100 murders per 100,000 citizens, making it the deadliest country outside of a war zone and the murder capital of the entire world.) There are also the around 190,000 U.S.-born children of Salvadoran TPS recipients to consider; the United States is their home, and they know nothing about living in a Latin American country, much less an extremely destabilized one.
And then there are the $4.5 billion in remittances which Salvadorans living in the United States send home every year, amounting to 17 percent of El Salvador’s GDP and its largest source of revenue. It’s hard to say how much of that money will evaporate with the return of nearly a quarter of a million Salvadoran immigrants, but to predict a decrease of at least 2 percent of GDP wouldn’t be a stretch, which would effectively erase the 2 percent growth rate that El Salvador has experienced in the last few years.
Sandra de Barraza, a columnist for El Salvador’s La Prensa Gráfica, believes the returnees will make President Sánchez Cerén and the governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front pay for not doing more to help their compatriots living in the United States under TPS. Moreover, a Central America specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America predicts that the influx of so many “pretty qualified, bilingual people” will displace Salvadorans already living at home, which may lead to “another surge in people leaving the country and looking for work” in the United States.
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump asked in a meeting last Thursday with lawmakers pressuring him to reconsider his ending TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans and others. The comment immediately sparked a firestorm on social media and among the press, both for its vulgarity and the president’s perceived racist chauvinism. “Why do we need more Haitians?” the president went on to say. “Take them out.”
Clearly Trump knows something about the places from which TPS recipients have fled. He’s right, after all: they are shithole countries, or at least they could be described that way when compared to France, Germany and Norway. What Trump fails to understand, however–or, as with his voters, what he pretends not to understand–is that much of the “shit” burying Haiti, El Salvador and the other recovering countries of Latin America was dumped on them by the United States.
As most Latino immigrants realize, they are here in the United States only because the U.S. government has so messed up things there in their homelands.
Featured image: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)