January 11, 2018 | By Jason Marczak, Kevin Appleby

Deep Dish: The True Impact of Deporting 200,000 Salvadorans

The Trump administration will not renew the temporary protected status of more than 200,000 El Salvadorian nationals living in the United States. This episode of Deep Dish features Latin America experts from the Atlantic Council and Migration Policy Institute talk about the impact of this decision from the lenses of social policy, economics, and diplomacy. Guests: Jason Marczak, director of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America Center, and Kevin Appleby, senior policy director on international migration at the Center for Migration Studies. Guest host: Phil Levy, senior fellow for the global economy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. 


[Jason Marczak: Texas, California, and New York are the primary states, but also Washington, Illinois, parts of the Southeast as well have large numbers of Salvadorans.

Kevin Appleby: Construction is a primary industry in which Salvadorans work. They also work in landscaping, child care, service industries. Some have risen to management position.]

Phil Levy: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Phil Levy, filling in for Brian Hanson, and today we're discussing the announced deportation of more than 200,000 of Salvadoran nationals who are currently residing in the United States. To help us understand what's happening, I'm joined by Jason Marczak, Director of the Atlantic Council's Latin America Center. Welcome, Jason.

Jason Marczak: Thank you, Phil.

Phil Levy: We also have with us Kevin Appleby, Senior Policy Director on International Migration at the Center for Migration Studies. Welcome to you, Kevin.

Kevin Appleby: Thank you for having me today.

Phil Levy: It's great to have you with us. The Department of Homeland Security announced that the Trump administration will not renew the Temporary Protected Status, sometimes known as TPS, of more than 200,000 El Salvadoran nationals living in the United States. Today we'll talk about the impact of this decision from the lenses of social policy, economics, and diplomacy. Kevin, maybe we can start by you giving us some understanding of what exactly just happened and why this was news.

Kevin Appleby: Well, the Trump administration has been reviewing several populations who have received in the past Temporary Protected Status, which is a statute in law that allows an administration to offer temporary legal status and employment authorization to populations from certain countries that may be experiencing conflict or some sort of natural disaster.

In the case of El Salvador, TPS was extended to Salvadoran nationals in 2001, after a series of earthquakes in that country, but it's been extended numerous times by both Republican and Democratic administrations over the past 17 years or so because country conditions there have not been sufficient for the government to receive their nationals back and also to ensure that they're safely repatriated.

This is news because this population, the Salvadorans, 200,000 in the country, have been here for years. They've established equity, they have families, they've bought homes. They're virtually American citizens other than on paper, and now the government's pulling the rug from under them and saying, "You have to sell your house. You need to take your kids out of school. You need to quit your job, and you need to go back to a country that is devastated by gang violence." That's essentially what this decision does.

Phil Levy: When you say the country, that El Salvador was not ready to receive them back, is it the gang violence you were referring to, or other things going on in El Salvador?

Kevin Appleby: Well, I think primarily the violence, but there's also certainly economic issues in the country, and the government itself is having a hard time governing the country. If you take that altogether, I would make the case that this population deserved another extension because of the status of the country, not to mention the fact that this could be counterproductive in the sense that, if you do deport some of these families, they may have to come back.

They may attempt to come back illegally through the border again to reunite with family or to reestablish their residency in some way. It's counterproductive on many levels.

Phil Levy: Jason, let's turn to you. What is the status of the government of the country in El Salvador? I don't think it's a place most of our listeners are very familiar with.

Jason Marczak: Yeah, thanks, Phil, and Kevin, great to be on with you as well. Phil, before I answer your question I just wanted to throw in something else on Kevin's excellent response, which is that the effect of not renewing TPS will obviously be [inaudible 00:04:10] Salvadoran families throughout the United States in states all across the country, but also US businesses. Kevin was mentioning the Salvadorans who have made a life for themselves here over the last 15 years, have risen up to, in many cases, prominent managerial roles in construction firms.

Construction firms are helping with rebuilding Houston or rebuilding parts of Florida, or other critical infrastructure projects around the United States. The US is going to be, through this, losing critical members of building the US infrastructure that have learned the tools of the trade over the years, so that's going to be a real problem. I know here in the Washington region, that Miller & Long Concrete Construction, for example, depends on Salvadoran immigrants, many of whom are TPS beneficiaries, for building new office buildings all across Washington. [crosstalk 00:05:07]

Phil Levy: I definitely want to come back to that question of what role they played in the US sector, but while we were tracing out this claim about the major motivation for them being there is, you essentially had an ongoing series of emergencies, disasters of one sort or another, what we know of the conditions in El Salvador?

Jason Marczak: Well, right now, Phil, right now in El Salvador, the government is not ready to respond to the potential of, you have 195,000 Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries, but then you must also figure in even their US-born children, if they are to return, are going to return with them, because you can't leave a 10-year-old to fend for themselves in the United States, so the number could very well be upwards of a half million potentially that would be returning to El Salvador.

I think last year the country received about 30,000 people. This is a tremendous, tremendous increase in the number of returnees for a small country of only six million people, and we're talking about adding potentially somewhere upwards, figure in dependents maybe around a half million to a country of only six million people. It's a country, as Kevin was saying, that sustains incredibly high levels of violence, primarily gang violence from gangs, Mara [inaudible 00:06:28], Mara Salvatrucha, are two gangs that were formed actually because of Salvadoran immigrants that were deported to El Salvador from Los Angeles in 1980.

They learned the tools of the trade of how to be the most effective gang members and brought that back to El Salvador. You also have a fledgling economy that struggles with foreign direct investment, and also I would say, some instability politically, as well. You have both the last two former presidents who are currently undergoing trials around corruption. There is a huge polarization of political divide in El Salvador.

Then, we also must define the extent to which this decision is contrary to US interests, because the US has been doubling down on not only supporting El Salvador, but what's called the Northern Triangle, which includes Guatemala and Honduras as well, to try to improve their economy, improve security with the idea that by making the situation better on the ground, you are going to decrease the push factors for unauthorized migrants to make the treacherous journey through Mexico to arrive in the United States.

You add this whole 'nother level of instability that will be created by the hundreds of thousands of people that could potentially be returning to El Salvador, who probably are as Kevin said, much more American at this point than Salvadoran, who'll either be looking for a job, will be the targets of gangs because gangs know that these people probably have more money because they've been living in the States, or might also potentially be displacing domestic workers, because people will be returning with a higher level of skill that they've acquired in the United States.

Phil Levy: Thank you for that. You both make quite a compelling case for how challenging this would be for El Salvador. Let me just come back for a second, though. How are we supposed to think [inaudible 00:08:25] that this was supposed to be a temporary program, because the challenges that you describe don't sound temporary to me? Those sound fairly chronic. How do we think about this temporary moniker in this case? Let me throw that at you, first, Kevin.

Kevin Appleby: Well, I mean, when proponents of ending TPS or certain populations use the line, "Temporary is meant to be temporary," they have a point. When the statute was enacted, the idea was that there would be six, 12, 18-month protection cycles, and then once the country recovers, then people would be required to return, but the reality of the world as such, particularly in these countries, which are very poor and are unable to recover not only from natural disasters, but they're unable to really provide basic services to some of their population.

In the case of Haiti, the pressure domestically here to allow them to remain because the countries haven't recovered not only from whatever the first incident was to give them TPS, but from the other things that are plaguing them, have encouraged our government to continue this over time. Certainly Congress needs to look at the statute and say, "How can we tweak the statute to meet the temporary definition?"

They also need to look at these longstanding populations and provide them a remedy, a permanent residency, if you will, because of their equities. Of course, Congresses haven't stepped up to the plate, so we're left with a statute that, even though it's temporary in the name, has essentially provided a protective status for populations from certain vulnerable countries, especially in our hemisphere.

Jason Marczak: I would add to that, Kevin, I think that you're right on, that the fundamental nature of this program, I think, is flawed. The fact that the program has the word "temporary" in it, but is anything but temporary. This has been in place since 2001. You mentioned Haiti as well, it's been 2010. We're also expecting a decision on Honduras as well, and the Honduras TPS designation took place for almost 20 years, since 1999.

It would seem to me like what's necessary is, as you say, some type of legislative fix for the current TPS beneficiaries, many of whom, in the case of El Salvador and Honduras, have been in this country for 15 or 20 years, but then also changing the program moving forward, such that we ensure that people in which the United States is providing relief, really [inaudible 00:11:26] are only here on that temporary basis so that we don't run 15 years into the problem yet again where somebody has established a life in the United States, and they're more American than their home country, but then they're being asked to return home.

Kevin Appleby: Right, and the one point I'd like to add to that is, in the current situation with these populations that are being impacted, the Hondurans, the Haitians, Salvadorans primarily, the United States has really encouraged them to develop roots here by extending them. There has never been a situation up to now, where there was an indication that they were going to have to uproot themselves.

In some ways the US has made a promise to them through our actions that they're going to be able to remain, and they've relied upon that over the years. It's almost as if we've made an offer to them, they've accepted it, and that's a contract unto itself, and they relied upon it and they placed their lives here. Now, to rescind that agreement, even thought it might not be in writing, is the wrong thing to do, really. It really undermines our credibility on some of these issues and it really ruins lives that have been planned based on what the US government has said to these groups.

Phil Levy: You both mentioned that the existing law is not ideal by any stretch. We're having ongoing discussions about perhaps having Congress take some action, perhaps to deal with President Trump. Are you at all optimistic that there will be a broader deal of this sort, that could perhaps address the needs of this particular group and other groups?

Jason Marczak: I am skeptical of a broader congressional fix in the midst of an election year. I think in the midst of a political cycle, this is 2018, that Congress will be focused on keeping the doors open and doing the bare bones, and then legislators will be focused on campaign mode just in a few months. I see this as very difficult, especially with the potential of Republican members that would compromise with Democrats then facing the risk of a primary challenge further from the right.

I think that there hopefully is the possibility for a legislative fix beyond November, but I think any type of legislative fix will be a difficult pill to swallow, because it will have to involve, if it's a TPS fix combined with a Dreamer fix, it will have to involve some type of greater border security, which will be fundamental to the Trump administration.

Phil Levy: Kevin, are you any more optimistic on this?

Kevin Appleby: Well, I've been in this business so long, I've seen proposals come and go, so I agree with Jason on this premise that it's a long shot. However, funny that you ask again, because the President today, in breaking news, suggested that a bipartisan meeting with congressional members, that he would support a broad legalization of the undocumented. Well, of course, you have to consider whether he said that off the cuff, or whether he was prepared to say that with the backing of his administration.

Now it seems to be that the negotiations on the DACA solution for undocumented youth and the border wall, and every other proposal the administration wants, is being even made more complicated by the idea that Trump would support a path to citizenship for all undocumented persons. We'll see how this plays out. Talk is cheap of course in this city, and to get to that place would take a lot so I'm not that optimistic that they'll get there, but having said that, there is awareness on the Hill about these populations and the need to find them a permanent solution, permanent residency.

It is in the mix in terms of the negotiations going on right now in immigration. Whether they get to protecting some of these populations, I'm not so sure, but it is in the conversation, at least.

Phil Levy: I should note for our listeners, who may be listening a little bit later, that update of what the President has said is coming on Tuesday, January 9th, as we are recording this conversation. As you both bring up timeline, with Jason thinking we might not see anything until after the election, what is the timeline for this particular group? How is this going to actually take place? Are people being loaded onto planes or ships in the next week? Is this something that happens over a year? What happens next with this, barring a big new congressional development?

Jason Marczak: Well, the beneficiaries, their current status [inaudible 00:16:37] the announcement from DHS is that current TPS beneficiaries are [inaudible 00:16:44] September 9th of 2019. That is a year and a half from now, and in the interim there will be a decision from current TPS beneficiaries, some of whom have will decide to return home. Some will decide to remain in the US without authorization. There's also the potential of beginning the process of people who haven't done it, if he has US-born children that are of adult age to begin the process of legalization through your US-born children.

As Kevin was mentioning before, Haitians ... Canada has seen a large increase in the number of Haitian asylum seekers at its borders because of the US ending its program as well, so that's a phenomenon that's starting to, I think, overwhelm the Canadian authorities, of asylum seekers that are going north as well.

Phil Levy: I wanted to get a picture partly of where this community is coming from and where they might be potentially heading to. In terms of where they're coming from, when we talk about this particular group with this Temporary Protected Status, how big a fraction of El Salvadorans in the United States is this? Geographically where are they? What are they doing? Kevin, do we have a clear picture of this?

Kevin Appleby: Well, there are about 195,000 to 200,000 TPS holders, Salvadoran TPS holders across the country, about 55,000 in California, a large number in New York, some in Texas, other states around the country. I think there are about one and a half to two million Salvadorans in the country, so I would say about 10 to 15% are TPS holders.

Jason Marczak: Yeah, and I think this is the Chicago Council in Illinois, there are [inaudible 00:18:49] about 1,300 Salvadorans that they're [inaudible 00:18:54] in Illinois with TPS designation. There's a large Salvadoran community here in the Washington area, there's about 20,000 in Maryland, and Virginia has about 21,000. As Kevin says, Texas, California and New York are the primary states, but also Washington region, Illinois, parts of the Southeast as well have large numbers of Salvadorans, many of whom as we were talking of before, still are sending large quantities of money back home.

The money that they're making here is critical for keeping their economies afloat. El Salvador gets about ... Its remittances comprise about 16% of GDP, so not all those remittances, obviously, come from the United States, but the vast majority do come from the United States. There is going to be a real economic shock in El Salvador and as I said before, this is a country that is already reeling from unfavorable economic conditions, so you can only imagine what that is going to do to exacerbate some of the push factors for folks making the unauthorized journey north to the United States.

Phil Levy: That's very helpful. I wanted to now come to this topic of ... There's been economic development actually in both places. You made some mention of what it would be landing in El Salvador, but in terms of the US, is there a particular profile? Are these well-integrated communities where we expect them to be doing the same kind of distribution of jobs as everybody else? Are they more involved in particular sectors? Do we have any sense of this?

Kevin Appleby: [crosstalk 00:20:39] Well, Jason mentioned construction is a primary industry in which Salvadorans work. They also work in landscaping, even child care service industries as well. Some have risen to management positions because they've been here over a large amount of time. Grocery stores, restaurants, and other food services, they're all part of those industries.

If now the Trump administration could wave a magic wand and get rid of them in a day, that would certainly have an economic impact on the country and the communities in which they live, especially in the construction area, but also in the service industry as well. It's hard to quantify what that economic contribution may be. There may be some studies on that, but it is significant and it would have an impact. Maybe the national economy may not feel it, but the local economies will certainly feel it going forward.

Jason Marczak: Yeah, especially local construction firms, and again, many of the construction firms are helping in rebuilding efforts in parts of the United States that have been affected by natural disasters over the course of the last six months will feel some of those effects. Also, for people listening to this podcast, you very likely interact with a Salvadoran TPS beneficiary or a TPS beneficiary from another country every day.

You probably don't even know it because TPS beneficiaries, as we've been saying, are so integrated into society over the years that, whether it's buying lunch at the local restaurants, or at the grocery store, these are people who are not only part of their communities, but are very much a part of all of our communities.

Kevin Appleby: There's also an opportunity cost in terms of the [yoo-issez 00:22:47] and children who may have their futures threatened by this, what they will contribute over their lifetimes to the economy, to our culture, et cetera, and will they be forced to return to El Salvador as well? How does that hurt our communities is a question that's really not always debated when you focus on what the contribution of the next generation will be, but that needs to be taken into consideration as well.

Phil Levy: Jason, you've alluded to this. When you think about, let's suppose a year from September, if the bulk of this group ends up arriving in San Salvador, what would that mean for the country? Then I'm going to close with this, what do we think this says about broader US relations with Latin America? What kind of signal might this send as we try to address the region in the new Trump administration?

Jason Marczak: Yeah, that's a great question, Phil. The Salvadoran foreign minister was ... Saw him recently in Washington, I guess that was in November. The Salvadoran government was going a big push both in Washington and in California, the importance of renewing TPS designation, and they're frankly concerned that the Salvadoran government does not have the tools at its disposal, does not have the infrastructure, does not have the institutions set up to be able to receive this large quantity of people, many of whom speak Spanish as a second language now. Their primary language is English.

There will be real consequences locally. Again, I go back to my point that the United States government has, for a number of years now, been providing assistance to improve the economic and security situation in the Northern Triangle of Central America, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, because stability in Central America is critical for US national security, and it's also critical for mitigating push factors.

This return of TPS beneficiaries is running contrary to other stated US policy interests. What are the broader implications for the Latin American region overall? Well, I think that there is a decent amount of concern right now, not just on immigration, but on US commercial policy, our trade policy, insofar as what direction is the US heading in? What kind of partner does the United States want to be for the region?

Phil, we've done some work together on NAFTA and the importance of NAFTA. You see countries across the region looking at how the US and Mexico and Canada are moving forward in those negotiations to decide where they want to put their chips moving forward. This is also a moment in which you're seeing increased Chinese investment in commercial interests in the region and an increased desire for many countries in the region to look toward Asia for their future, and so these types of decisions by the US, I think, only perpetuate some of these tendencies that we're starting to see from countries across the region.

Phil Levy: Well, Jason and Kevin-

Kevin Appleby: If I might just add, I mean, one other aspect is that these Salvadorans have been in the US for years. They would be targets of criminal elements in El Salvador, because they'll be perceived as having money, having some sort of skill, and being able to pay these gangs extortion money, for lack of a better term. They really would be placed more in danger, because the gangs would know who exactly who they were and where they had lived all those years.

Jason Marczak: A great point, Kevin, yeah, I would be shocked if gang members are not watching every plane that's landing in San Salvador with TPS beneficiaries coming home, and target it and knowing exactly where they're going so they can be targeted once they're settled in country.

Phil Levy: Well, Jason and Kevin, thank you both very much for your insights on all this. You've been really generous with your time, and we really appreciate you filling us in. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of Deep Dish on Global Affairs. As a reminder, the opinions you've heard today are those of the people who express them, and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. If you liked the show, please subscribe or send the episode to someone you know who would like it.

You can find our show under Deep Dish on Global Affairs wherever you listen to podcasts. Deep Dish is produced by Evan Fazio. I'm Phil Levy filling in for Brian Hanson. We'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish ...

Brian Hanson: I want to share with all our listeners that we've launched a Facebook group. You can find us on Facebook under Deep Dish on Global Affairs. This is a public group, so please join in. We'll post new episodes and relevant articles, but it also can be a place for you to ask questions, give feedback, and suggest guests and topics to us, so please check us out, Facebook group, Deep Dish on Global Affairs.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


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