During a meeting about U.S. immigration policy, President Trump shat all over the people of three regions. According to attendees, he specifically referred to Haiti, El Salvador and countries from Africa when asking, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” “Shitholes” is Trumpspeak for regions that are impoverished and/or in turmoil and offer little to no economic benefit to the United States other than an immigrant labor force that can be easily exploited. (Anyone care to wager he's got housekeeping employees from at least two of those regions in his hotels?) Trump also means people whose skin is darker than a shade of orange.
The focus in the media has been on Haiti and Africa. El Salvador has hardly been mentioned, which is surprising considering Trump's recent mandate regarding the Temporary Protected Status of 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants. Without knowing anything about the country's tumultuous history or its struggling people, he's going to send people in search of the American Dream back to their “shithole.”
In 1979, after almost 20 years of political violence, an official civil war between left-wing guerrillas and a right-wing government broke out in El Salvador. Decades of socioeconomic inequality in which 2 percent of the population enjoyed 95 percent of the revenue from the export of coffee, the government's employment of paramilitary death squads to kill anyone thought to be sympathetic to leftist ideology, and the government's suspension of civil liberties are just some of the factors in the complex buildup to the civil war. Due to Cold War fears, Jimmy Carter's administration for the most part supported the government because it was anti-socialist. Under Ronald Reagan, the United States spent close to $1 billion in financial and military aid, ensuring that El Salvador wouldn't fall into communist hands, like neighboring Cuba and Nicaragua. Before the war was officially declared over in 1992, more than 75,000 people were killed. Pretty shitty stuff.
Almost 30 years after the war, El Salvador is considered “the homicide capital of the world” or “the most dangerous place on earth not at war,” according to a simple Google search. This is due to the proliferation of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and its rival 18th Street, gangs that originated in Los Angeles and were made up of despondent teenage immigrants, some of them arriving in the States alone. Since the early 1990s, gang members have been constantly deported back to El Salvador, where they recruit a new generation of kids toughened by the aftermath of war. Some stay and build on the gangs at home while others accompany seasoned border-crossers back to the United States.
Admittedly, it's a problem. But it's a problem that's not unique to immigrants from El Salvador. Another simple Google search brings up all the violent gangs and mobs made up of immigrants from all over the world that call the United States home, including homegrown ones such as the KKK and Aryan Brotherhood. Turns out Wikipedia has a page called “List of gangs in the United States.” Take a look.
But just as with any other country, the majority of people who come from El Salvador are not bad hombres. They're hard-working people in pursuit of a better life that is impossible for the majority to find back at home.
So why flee to the United States and not, say, just go up to wealthier Mexico? The answer is simple. The United States, in particular the Southwest, is the closest point north to which Latin Americans can immigrate and find a large Spanish-speaking community living in relative comfort and peace compared with their impoverished or war-stricken homelands.
To argue the origin of that large Spanish-speaking community, we have to look at another history of political upheaval. In 1821, the Mexican Empire was established after gaining its independence from Spain. The Empire extended from Northern California to Costa Rica and included a large portion of Texas. With colonists populating the Mexican Empire, it was only a matter of time before territories ceded to the United States. So the argument “We've always been here” applies bigly to Latinos.
I was born in El Salvador. In 1980, a year after war broke out, I had my birthday on U.S. soil two months after human rights activist Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while he was celebrating Mass. The assassination was orchestrated by the government's armed forces. Had I stayed for a few more years I would have been old enough to be forcibly recruited as a child soldier by whoever got to me first, the military or the guerrillas.
In 1986, I, along with millions of other immigrants from all over the world, became an American citizen due to the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed by Reagan. Incidentally, IRCA was developed with the help of Father Theodore Hesburgh, who at the time was president of the University of Notre Dame. I graduated from Notre Dame in 1995. And now here I am … one of many immigrants from a “shithole” country. One of many immigrants with lots to say. If only that shithead was smart enough to listen before speaking.