PCASC, the Portland Central America Solidarity Committee, sponsored a presentation last Friday (June 3, 2016) by Professor Moises Gomez from the University of Central America in San Salvador and also, the Jesuit Salvador Migration Network on the "root causes of migration." The evening began with music by LOLO, a local Salvadoran musician singing canciones/songs of El Salvador. Songs that remembered the 1980's civil war and the struggle for human rights in El Salvador.
After a brief summary of El Salvador's history and a reminder of the exodus of Salvadorans to the United States in the early 1980's, he addressed the current causes of migration.
First and foremost, is family reunification.
There are more than 2.5 million Salvadorans living in the United States today. About 200,000 are covered under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) as a result of the 2001 earthquake in El Salvador. TPS does not mean that they can stay indefinitely in the USA but have to reapply every two years for an extension. Families are divided and in particular, for the children they want to be reunited with their families. This was the case of Francisco Aguirre who spent four months living in sanctuary in Portland, Oregon in 2014. He was able to bring his son from El Salvador but his son could not stay. When his son returned to El Salvador he was murdered by a drug gang.
Secondly, the neo-liberal project that privatizes public services and multi-nationals that pay low wages contributes to the high level of poverty in the country. Maquilas, for example, may provide jobs but at a low wage. The Economic conditions of the country are another factor that pushes people north. Moises explained, "Salvadorans have always been migrants. Before we went to Costa Rica or Panama for work, but now the favorite choice is the United States."
And the third factor is the violence - from drugs, from corruption as well as structural violence e.g. the child who dies from hunger because of lack of food.
The United States response to migration is a militarization of the problem. Beginning with Plan Merida in 2008 to combat and disarm drug cartels in Mexico, the United States now is implementing the Central America Security Initiative (CARSI) to stop drug cartels and the flow of migrants.
Moises shared that in 2015 - 68,000 Salvadorans mostly young people were deported from Chiapas, Mexico. The Plan Frontera Sur is militarizing the Mexico-Guatemala border to prevent migration from the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador).
The latest U.S. response, the Alliance for Progress, provides $750 million to the three countries over a five year period. "But," Moises pointed out, "50-60% of these monies are going to military equipment in some form or another." Both Guatemala and El Salvador have a very tragic history with their military that have been primary violators of human rights. Moises sees that the Salvadoran police are increasingly being "militarized," as part of the effort to control the drug cartels.
WHAT WE NEED and WHAT WE SALVADORANS CAN DO:
El Salvador businesses need to pay the taxes necessary to meet our social needs. "We don't want to be dependent on the United States." Last year $1.75 million (USD) was not collected in taxes. We are capable of taking care of ourselves but we need you in the United States to work with us .
WHAT WE CAN DO AS FRIENDS OF EL SALVADOR
When asked "what gives you hope?" Moises responded that the solidarity movement or people to people movement during the 1980's did stop U.S. military aid to El Salvador and ultimately, closed down the School of Americas, where the majority of military officers from Central America were trained. He added - "Noone thought that these two actions were possible, but you did them." We need to do more of the impossible NOW to change the lives of migrants and our companeros/brothers and sisters in El Salvador.
Here is a wonderful quote from Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
"When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility."
Join me in doing the impossible - to bring justice in our immigration system during this Presidential election year!
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?