Transcript for Salvadoran Perspectives on Migration, July 28, 2014, with Blanca Flor Bonilla, FMLN International Relations Secretariat. Distributed by U.S.-El Salvador Sister Cities [ElSalvadorSolidarity.org]
Note: "Neoliberal" is a phrase used to describe an economic regime which is liberal (or relaxed) in regulating business, that is to say, it describes a process that protects and enables profit making above human-rights. In other words, it describes economic fascism.
Good afternoon everyone. Right now we are discussing an issue that’s crucial for our families, communities, and El Salvador. I’m very pleased to be here and I thank CISPES and SHARE for the invitation, and also Sister Cities. These three organizations are doing very important work in communities in the U.S. I want to refer to a theme that we’ve already touched on a little bit, specifically the causes of migration.
Causes of Migration: Human Rights Violations -
We know that in our country we had 60 years of military dictatorship. Nearing the end of the 1970s, human rights were completely ignored and violated. And it was this situation that gave rise to the FMLN. After the first offensive in 1981, the FMLN proposed a strategy of dialogue and negotiation to address the human rights violations, as an alternative solution. This was put forward immediately following the first offensive in January of 1981. But we know that in 1983 [the US government] decided to prolong the war in El Salvador. Consequently from that decision, the U.S. came to fund the Salvadoran military and government with $2 million daily, including military advisors and equipment.
And it wasn’t until the Salvadoran people, the Salvadoran government, and U.S. government came to understand that prolonging the war was not the way forward to peace. So it was with this agreement among Salvadorans, and with the U.S. approval, that an agreement was signed on April 4, 1990 so that the UN could begin a process of dialogue and negotiation for a peace treaty. By the time that the Peace Accords were signed on January 16th, 1992, a historic date, more than 80,000 civilians had been murdered, and more than a million Salvadoran emigrated to the U.S. Just to reiterate, at the time the Peace Accords were signed, more than 80,000 civilians had been murdered, over 8,000 were disappeared and continue in this state, and over a million Salvadorans had emigrated and this emigration was primarily to the United States.
Causes of Migration: Twenty years of neoliberal policy -
After the Peace Accords we began to build our democracy. And yet, in a parallel fashion, the government of ARENA, which was in power for 20 years, advocated for a neoliberal framework where they primarily privatized government institutions, which led to a lot of unemployment and loss of economic opportunities. In addition it was the signing of the free trade agreement, CAFTA-DR that gave complete priority to transnational companies and completely overlooked or became detrimental to the agricultural sector, which 49% of the economically active population was a part of, as well as to artisanal production and tanning, which lost over two hundred businesses after the signing of the free trade agreement. Immigration rose after that because all of these jobs were gone. Between 1992 and 2009, more than 2 million Salvadorans have emigrated, mainly to U.S., more than twice as many as during the entire war, and they primarily went to the U.S.
Causes of Migration: Deportation of gang members -
On the other hand we know that in the 1980s in the 18th St. gang and the MS-13 gangs grew up in Los Angeles, and they were mostly Salvadoran immigrants, kids who went to U.S. with dreams of a better life, of a safer life and now have been deported and returned to El Salvador as criminals. Now violence has spread throughout the entire country
To summarize, there have been three push factors for migration to the U.S. – one, the complete and total violation of human rights, two, the signing of free trade agreements and the impulse of the neoliberal economic model with the stamp of approval from the U.S., and three, the rise of the gangs and the violence that have now spread to Central America and Mexico.
Historically El Salvador has had a close relationship with the U.S., and if we review each of the push factors that we talked about, for each of those there is a shared responsibility between the U.S. government and the Salvadoran government.
Humanitarian Situation Facing Kids and Teenagers Arriving to the US -
Recently I was invited to a meeting with Vice-Minister for Salvadorans in the Exterior, Liduvina Margarín, and also this past Friday, I attended a meeting with the state institution for children and adolescents (COGNA), which is charged with making sure that the laws are enforced in terms of their care. In these meetings they gave us a report of the humanitarian state of those children detained in U.S.
Between January 1st and the May 31st of 2014, 47,017 children and adolescents emigrated, or rather, were been detained at the US-Mexico border. By Friday’s meeting, it was estimated that the number had surpassed 52,000. During this period (January 1st to May 31st), 13,082 of the children and adolescents came from Honduras, followed by 11,570 from Mexico, followed by 11,479 from Guatemala, followed by 9,850 Salvadorans, and then 829 from other countries. So, as you can see, El Salvador is in 3rd place among Central American countries with young people detained. Of these, 23.8% are 0-11 years old, and 76.2% are adolescents between the ages of 12-17.
Until now, none of the children deported from the U.S. so far have been Salvadoran. Those who have been deported are those coming from Mexico.
In 2013-14, the Salvadoran Office of Migration interviewed over 3,515 children. The children explained their reasons for leaving – 41% left to join with their family, 28% for economic reasons, and 10% because of the violence.
So you can see that nearly 90% of the children interviewed are leaving because of reasons generated by 20 years of ARENA government and economic opportunities taken away because of that. The children want to reunite their families, some have sought documentation and others have been waiting for the immigration reform president Obama promised.
Risks of the journey -
There are two main areas of risk that children and teenagers face when traveling without papers. The government of El Salvador and all agencies of the state are now carrying out an information campaign for both families here and also in the U.S. about the extreme risks and dangers that children and teenagers who are making this trip. The route is plagued by organized crime rings, which are connected to drug cartels, and human trafficking networks, which carry out all kinds of kidnappings, crimes, and abuses against people, including the girls.
The second area is when they arrived to the US, because, and it’s important for all families here to know this, the law in the US includes undocumented migration in organized crime. For this reason, they consider undocumented migration part of organized crime because it’s included in the same law.
We know that in the US there are four steps that are taken [when a child is detained], or are supposed to be carried out, according to the law. The government of El Salvador is asking the US government to comply with its own legislation. The first stage is when the children are detained by border patrol. The second is when they are in the processing centers. The third is when they are transferred to shelters. The fourth is when they are released to their families, if they have family here, to wait for hearings.
Our government is asking for the laws that have been established to be respected. Here there is regulation that has always been applied; the migration of kids is nothing new. [The regulation states] that after being held for 72 hours, the children are released to a family member, if not a dad or mom then to another family member who has legal status and sufficient economic conditions in the US.
The current phenomena is that the 72 hour limit is not being complied with. That’s why such a big number of kids accumulated. Our government has prepared for the case in which, after applying the law, there are kids who are not reunited with their parents there. We will receive them here. There are two return centers with programs for psychological care that are being organized with the support of technical and financial cooperation to confront this situation.
The information and education campaign is being carried out with families so that they understand the risks that undocumented children and teenagers face.
On the other hand, the government, together with a civil society network, is preparing to apply a policy of Holistic Protection of Children and Teenagers in order to be able to strengthen families with children whose dads and moms are in the U.S.
In conclusion, we’d like to thank all of our friends in the U.S. for the work you are doing and invite you to take on and carry out more efforts so that the human rights of the children and teenagers will be respected and for the US government to apply the established proceedings. This is what we’ve asked the U.S. government to do, this is what our president asked during the visit he had with President Obama last Friday.
The phenomenon of the children is something we see as a humanitarian issue and we hope the US government can see it this way too.