Trump’s Cancellation of TPS is Just the Latest American Injustice Against Salvadorans

Image for post
Image for post
Izalco Volcano in El Salvador’s Cerro Verde National Park © Kraig Lieb / Getty Images

Last week, the Trump administration said it would revoke the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of more than 200,000 Salvadorans who live in the U.S., many of whom initially fled their home country due to a devastating series of earthquakes in 2001. Rescinding this protection would force immigrant families to leave the country by September 9, 2019, or possibly face deportation.

Defenders of this troubling policy decision claim the program is no longer necessary, but, based on Trump’s recent “shithole countries” comments — as well as his decades of flagrant racism and alliances with a vast assortment of bigots and fascists — it’s clear that this policy is based on a disturbing white nationalist fantasy that is quickly becoming a reality. The malevolent nature of this decision is not merely due to it’s attempt at small-scale ethnic cleansing; it’s also crucial to recognize the immense danger Salvadorans would face by returning to their country of origin.

El Salvador is part of the “Northern Triangle,” which also includes Honduras and Guatemala, and is one of the most violent and unstable regions in the world, second only to actual war zones. Brutal criminal gangs such as MS-13 have gained power, and government security forces have implemented an “iron fist” policy of extrajudicial killings in gang-controlled areas. Cora Currier and Natalie Keyssar of The Intercept explained how poverty-striken youth are often trapped between gangs and government forces:

“Kids in El Salvador face well-documented threats at the hands of gangs, from extortion to forced recruitment as members or ‘girlfriends’ of members. Being a witness to a gang murder, or just being in the wrong part of town or on the wrong bus line, can get you killed.

Increasingly, they also face violence from police. Poor youth are rounded up on suspicion of being gang members, hassled, imprisoned, and, in some cases, killed. Shakedowns and cellphone seizures are common. Activists say police regularly plant evidence and rely on flimsy allegations of gang affiliation. Beyond physical violence, there is widespread economic and social stigma against people from areas where gangs have a robust presence.”

The moral gymnastics one must perform to justify forcing hundreds of thousands of people into such an environment is astounding. Indeed, there are many cases in which deportation can be a death sentence.

Of course this is an unfathomably hellish prospect, and it must be stopped. But let’s not hop on the “all bad things started with Trump” bandwagon too quickly. El Salvador-based journalist Hilary Goodfriend recently noted that the cancellation of TPS for Salvadorans is “just the latest injustice they’ve suffered at the hands of the U.S. state.” As Benjamin Schwarz of The Atlantic wrote, “What is indisputable is that for a decade American policymakers in Washington and American civilian and military personnel in El Salvador consorted with murderers and sadists.”

Before elaborating upon American crimes against the people of El Salvador specifically, it’s worth mentioning that the U.S. government, often covertly, had been supporting dictatorships and death squads throughout Latin America since 1954, when the CIA staged a coup to overthrow Jacobo Árbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala.

Image for post
Image for post
Jacobo Árbenz, 1951 (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1980, with standard Cold War dogma as justification, the brutal Salvadoran regime began receiving American military aid from none other than liberal icon Jimmy Carter. During the previous year, the Salvadoran military and associated death squads had murdered some 8,000 civilians — including four American churchwomen — so it was clear from the outset that defeating the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) was more important than even a vague concern for human rights.

In December of 1981, U.S.-trained Salvadoran military units arrived in a remote village called El Mozote. They were searching for guerilla fighters, but found only village residents and peasants seeking safe haven. Soldiers proceeded to round up the men — separating them from the women and children — and engaged in interrogations, torture, and mass executions. Soon after, these government forces took the women and older girls, raped them, and slaughtered them with machinegun fire. The soldiers concluded their massacre by butchering the remaining children and burning the village to the ground. In the end, approximately 1,000 civilians had been murdered.

As the years passed and the carnage continued, there was much deliberation among U.S. government officials regarding the continued support for the Salvadoran regime. But at the heart of this sinister alliance was a fanatical bipartisan belief that such a horrific bloodbath was necessary to serve American national security interests. By the time a peace agreement was reached in 1992, approximately 75,000 Salvadorans had been killed. The United Nations estimated that about 85% of the civilian deaths had been at the hands of government forces and their death squads. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.”

In the short term, vehement opposition toward Trump and his abhorent policies is essential. We must defeat Trumpism, and the ideologies of white supremacy along with it. But in the long term, we also need to end our imperialistic “national-building” projects around the world. Both of these legacies are based on violent coercion, oppression, and Eurocentrism. Both need to be dismantled in order to build a world where liberty and justice aren’t just buzzwords, but a reality.

Written by

Socialist. Herbivore. Husband. I usually write about politics, current events, and history. My work has also been published by The Hampton Institute.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store