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If the Trump era is about putting America first, those 200,000 Salvadorans should not only stay, they should become citizens

REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Deportees waiting to be processed at an immigration facility after a flight from the U.S. to San Salvador, El Salvador, on Thursday.

There is little doubt that the “temporary” status that allowed more than 200,000 citizens of El Salvador to remain in the United States — until the Trump administration revoked that status this week — had largely become a fiction. 

The Salvadorans were here because of the earthquakes that destroyed much of their Central American country in 2001, and they were able to extend their stay repeatedly. They built lives. They had children — American citizens born on U.S. soil — even amid the long-term uncertainty of their status. 

Now they’ve been swept up in an ugly political battle that includes the “dreamers” and the president’s border wall. You can make a case that it’s only reasonable to tell them it’s time to leave. El Salvador has rebuilt from the earthquakes; even if the country still has huge problems (some of which the U.S. had a hand in creating), the United States isn’t obligated to help solve them. Or so the logic goes.

But if the Trump era really is about putting America first, evidence suggests they not only should stay. They should become citizens. 

Those fleeing what Trump termed “shithole” countries like El Salvador value what the U.S. offers. Norwegians, whom he’d rather attract, don’t need it. Trump wants the Salvadorans gone by September 2019. His administration has ended a similar status for Haitians; the program for Hondurans comes up for renewal in spring. There is no reason to believe it will be extended. 

If you judge by the values and behavior Americans idealize, these foreigners already are good Americans. If you decide on the basis of simple humanity, few Americans would send a neighbor or friend to live in one of the most violent places on Earth. If hard-headed economics is your thing, they contribute more to both countries by staying.

This report by the Center for Migration Studies includes some eye-opening data about them. 

It’s clear many of the Salvadorans already were in the U.S. as undocumented immigrants before the earthquakes hit, and used the program to gain official status. But now, they’ve been in the country an average of 21 years. 

What have they done in that time? Pretty much the same thing most Americans have done. The vast majority, 88 percent, work. The comparable number for the entire U.S. labor force is 63 percent. They are raising 192,000 children who are U.S. citizens. 

One study, which includes smaller numbers of Haitians and Hondurans, indicates that 30 percent have mortgages, 87 percent speak some English (more than half speak it well). They tend to work in relatively low-paying jobs: the top five are construction, food service, landscaping, childcare and grocery stores. Still, more than four of every five stay above the poverty level.

Plus, many studies indicate that immigrants — undocumented or not — are less likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes. That’s true even for poorly educated young men, who are most at risk. 

So, to review: They’re more likely to have a job and less likely to have a rap sheet. Seems like the kind of person who can help keep America great.

Now, think about conditions in El Salvador. The State Department human rights report for 2016 cites problems including extortion, corruption and violence against women and girls. A report by the New York Times and the Salvadoran online publication El Faro found that gangs (who formed decades ago from a previous generation of young men deported by the U.S.) have a “menacing presence” in 247 of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities. The murder rate in 2015 was 103 per 100,000 residents; the U.S. figure was five.

In better circumstances, recent arrivals from the United States could bring an infusion of money and U.S. sensibilities about the rule of law. In practice, they would be targets for the gangs, who presume that if you’ve lived in the U.S., you must have money. Their kids would be subject to intimidation and violence — and possible recruitment into the gangs as a survival mechanism. 

Odds are that people who seem familiar to us as neighbors or fellow citizens would die violently. This New Yorker investigation is largely about people deported to Mexico, but it’s easy to put the problem into a Salvadoran context.

Finally, besides their contribution to the U.S. economy, Salvadorans last year sent more than $4.5 billion back to El Salvador, a country whose entire economic output was $27 billion. Losing that money means more instability. More instability means more people trying to get out. Guess where they’ll go?

The fact that the Salvadorans still are here says more about the lack of a U.S. immigration policy than it does about them. Of course they want to stay. At the beginning of a rollercoaster week, Trump indicated he was open to a comprehensive deal on immigration reform. (If you think that’s right around the corner, I’ve got a statue in New York harbor to sell you.) 

In the meantime, why not try something truly unusual — solve a piece of the problem in a way that benefits everyone involved. Let those who already act like Americans actually be Americans. 

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/12/2018 - 10:32 am.

    Couple things.First of all,

    Couple things.

    First of all, if you’re going to criticize Trump for naming a country a “shithole”, you can’t then argue it’s inhuman to send people back to them.

    Second, the think tank studies regarding criminal acts by immigrants are facile and irrelevant. If we are picking the best people to bestow the gift of US citizenship (for that is what it is), NONE will be committing crimes. Because they will be too busy making a lucrative living in a necessary profession.

    Beyond that, the think tank studies are also false. To put these lefty fairy tales to rest, President Trump has directed Homeland Security to look into how many immigrants, legal or otherwise, are committing crimes. Here is a report on the number of people IN PRISON, so it doesn’t count the number still out here running amok…spoiler, it’s a big number:

    “A total of 58,766 known or suspected aliens were in in DOJ custody at the end of FY 2017”

    Finally, these arguments in favor of allowing Salvadorian & Hatian people permanent residency (citizenship!?) are really arguments against ever taking people in temporarily again. These people may or may not be “good people”, but they didn’t enter the country because it was beneficial to America; they’re here as an act of mercy and compassion….now it’s time to go home.

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/12/2018 - 11:20 am.

      I’m curious.

      It seems your surname is of German-speaking origin, Mr. Senker. Can you tell us when your ancestors came to America, how, and why? How did they earn their livings?

      My own came here from Ireland, French-speaking Canada, and Bohemia, all in the mid to late 19th Century. The Irish fled the famine in 1847 and the tenant evictions of the 1880s. The French-Canadians came here after spending two hundred years in Quebec, largely along the St. Lawrence. Their ancestors came from throughout France, soldiers, masons, trappers, Daughters of the King, and other women who risked everything for a better life than was offered by their homeland. What drove the Bohemians to leave Europe and settle in Wisconsin, I can not say. It appears to have occurred during a technical revolution that ruined small farmers and a drought that caused famine in the 1860s.

      If you choose not to reply to these questions, I hope you will acknowledge that the number you cite includes 20,000 or so people who are suspected of being aliens and that only 37,000 or so are known to be aliens. To give that number some perspective, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates the total number of people in custody in 2015 at 1,530,000 (1.53 million). That means the total number of known or suspected aliens in custody is about 3.84% of those in state or federal custody. Assuming 12 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. and a total population of 320 million, 3.75% of those living here are undocumented. In other words, the numbers are proportional. (It would be interesting to know how many of those identified as illegal aliens are in custody solely because of their immigration status.)

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/12/2018 - 11:48 am.

        Hi James.My great grandpappy

        Hi James.

        My great grandpappy came from Germany, he entered the country legally. He married an Irish girl and they raised 7 kids together.

        They received $0 from the government when they arrived. And $0 thereafter.

        He arrived as a skilled mason and bricklayer; given the country was expanding and building at beakeneck speed at the time, his skill would have passed any “beneficial and necessary” test. He risked everything for a better life, and he brought what he needed to do it with him.

        That does not describe the majority of the people here illegally today.

        Since there were no government translators, and everything was written in English, he had to learn the language, which he did (I have letters he wrote, in English). He never received welfare, certainly never went to prison, and neither has any of his decendents.

        Your inspection of DHS stats ignore my main point; if we restrict immigration to people that have the skills we need to succeed, none of them will be out there committing crimes, or in prison.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 01/14/2018 - 12:55 am.


          Must have been the odd duck then. MY German ancestors read German language newspapers, educated their kids in German language schools and worshipped in German language churches. (As did my Norwegian ones, in Norwegian of course, my great grandmother spoke fluent Norwegian). You cannot walk a mile in most of the upper Midwest without seeing cultural touchstones of Scandinavian, German, Polish, etc… culture that far from being “assimilated” out, instead changed the existing local American culture to their norms. That you would expect the culture of newer immigrants to not likewise alter the status quo is foolish. That you would hold them to some higher standard than others is likewise foolish, lest you’d have us believe that there was some grand benefit offered to poor citizens of your grandfather’s era, from which immigrants were excluded? Had welfare and other social safety nets existed, they would have been extended, such is the moral make-up of MOST of us.

          • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/15/2018 - 08:21 am.

            Couple things in your comment stand out, Matt.

            First, you observe that many turn of the century immigrants built their own facilities to accommodate their cultural needs. That’s markedly different from many of today’s immigrants appearing in publicly financed facilities and demanding the dominant culture bend to accommodate them, isn’t it? My GGrandfather spoke fluent German, of course; I’m sure he read German language newspapers. He also spoke, read and wrote English, as did most of his contemporaries, including your fore bearers.

            Building their own schools and churches also speaks to the success they had in becoming self-sufficient, keeping in mind they had to meet the needs of day to day living from the minute they stepped off the boat. Building a school? Such extravagance could only be pursued by successful people.

            Secondly, although they spoke different languages, wore different clothes, ate different food, yesterday’s immigrants shared a very important commonality with their fellow immigrants, and the native born population; Western culture.

            Their leaders were all related as family; the people all recognized the same music; the shared history; the same religious traditions; the same calendar; the same laws. The differences were more nuanced than startling. They blended their culture easily, because they were in large part already blended.

            Today’s immigrants come from a fundamentally different culture, and many of their traditions are not only shocking to us, some are outright illegal in America. Shall we retool our laws to accommodate this new wave?

            Finally, the moral make up of our ancestors not only made the thought of forcing their neighbors to give them the fruits of their labor unthinkable, the thought of asking was beyond the pale. Charity was freely given and accepted with gratitude only as a last resort; it was repaid if at all possible. Anyone proposing welfare as we know it today would have been an odd duck, indeed.

            • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/17/2018 - 06:40 pm.

              False facts Galore

              “Cultural facilities”

              A false picture is being where he claims immigrants got of the ship and went off to build their own homes and lands vs todays immigrants who squat in public housing. In actuality early immigrants lived in total filth in cities like New York. Heard of the phrase “Typhoid Mary” ?

              “Demanding dominant culture accommodate them ”

              How so. Not a single example of such accommodation is given. Could it be the Spanish translator in schools that Mr Senker finds so demanding ?

              “shared a very important commonality with their fellow immigrants, and the native born population; Western culture.”

              Totally, completely false. Europe was an ethnic cauldron at the time. There was no such uniting “Western Culture” such as the one being portrayed here. And each groups of immigrants from the “Western Culture” hated each other and fought openly and bitterly here.

              “Building their own schools and churches also speaks to the success they had in becoming self-sufficient, keeping in mind they had to meet the needs of day to day living from the minute they stepped off the boat. ”

              A Mary Poppins fantasy is being painted here. Most Irish and other immigrants lived no such lives. In actuality they lived in vast urban hovels with disease. What Mr Senker does is compress the entire past immigrant experiences over multiple generations, where they were able to find their footing in America gradually, into a single false timeframe and expect that modern day immigrants meet such a false standard of progress.

              “the people all recognized the same music; the shared history; the same religious traditions; the same calendar; the same laws. ”

              False again. Irish were targeted by the Know-Nothing party cause they were Catholics and had their churches and schools burned

              “Shall we retool our laws to accommodate this new wave?”

              False, as usual. Which laws have been proposed to be retooled to accommodate this new wave. Is Mr Senker referring to “Sharia law” being practiced in Oklahoma perhaps.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/12/2018 - 01:52 pm.

      Hey Senker! We all know that almost all of the people Homeland Security has “in jail” are there because they are aliens. Their only “crime” is to be in the U.S without authorization.

      Be more careful with your citations, and the next time, refer specifically to how many of those “incarcerated aliens” are criminals, in the real sense of killers rapists, thieves, etc. Your carelessness is giving Trumpism a bad name.

      • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/12/2018 - 02:34 pm.

        Hi Constance.Illegal entry

        Hi Constance.

        Illegal entry into the US is indeed a crime, but I don’t think many are serving prison sentences for it…certainly no first timers who have not committed other felony level crimes. Only people that have been convicted of serious felonies (killers, rapists, thieves, drug dealers) are sentenced to federal prison.In any case, the report I cited does not address the issue, so I’m unclear where you were going with that.

        One thing though. Earlier it was suggested that the number of incarcerated aliens was small. From my link:

        “This report does not include data on the foreign-born or alien populations in state prisons and local jails because state and local facilities do not routinely provide DHS or DOJ with comprehensive information about their inmates and detainees. This limitation is noteworthy because state and local facilities account for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. incarcerated population.”

        So to be clear, 58,000 is only 10% of the total population of people who have committed or been accused of committing crimes while in the US illegally. I say accused of committing crimes because many inmates of local jails are waiting trial. Still, that is a staggering number; Great Grampa Senker would not approve.

  2. Submitted by Jim Smola on 01/12/2018 - 12:45 pm.


    How many immigrants who entered this country since it was founded legally or illegally entered because it was beneficial to the country? I would suggest all immigrants enter for reasons such as escaping religious and other forms of persecution, fleeing civil unrest/war, economic opportunities, or famine. I would be willing to bet that your granddad’s immigration fell into one of these categories as my great grandparents did.

    One last comment, when across the country economists are saying immigrants are necessary to fill employment needs why would we kick out productive working people?

    • Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/12/2018 - 02:46 pm.

      Jim, I get your point, and I agree; immigrants do not come here for the benefit of America, it’s a matter of self interest.

      But *my* point is, that my great grandad was *allowed* to immigrate because it was a benefit to America; he had a skill we needed.

      To your suggestion we would kick out “productive working people”, with respect to you, and to them, according to the census bureau we had a population of 76.1 million in 1900.

      It’s 324.3 million as of this year; we do not need to import burger flippers, roofers, landscapers or Uber drivers, in my and many others’ opinion.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/17/2018 - 06:44 pm.

        had a skill we needed. – False

        had a skill we needed – False. Most immigrants were not the “skilled” immigrants. They worked menial jobs and were used by factory and mine bosses to undercut the local labor.

  3. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 01/12/2018 - 03:15 pm.

    Not to belabor the point, but as I was digging around, I found this piece which I think is relevant.

    California, in it’s determination to flood the country with immigrants without regard for the law, has pardoned illegal aliens with felony records to keep them in the country. The story is, these people were convicted of low level, non-violent crimes….just high spirited chuckleheads…

    “Neth was convicted on a felony weapons charge with a gang enhancement and a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property with a value of $400 or less in 1995 in Stanislaus County.

    Neth, 42, was unexpectedly released from Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center on Friday, said his wife, Cat Khamvongsa, and is back home with his family – albeit with an ankle monitor.”

    Why the ankle monitor? It’s because the gun charge was federal. But incredibly:

    “Lo said the pardon only covers the felony charge against Neth, but federal immigration law doesn’t allow the pardon to remove a possibility of being deported on the firearms count.

    But California gave Neth another gift in 2014 with Proposition 47, the voter-approved ballot initiative that allowed some felony crimes to be reclassified as misdemeanors. Early this month, a court changed Neth’s firearm count to a lesser charge under those guidelines – another step toward restoring his legal status.”

    California has the strictest gun laws in the country. They have criminalized possession of articles that are perfectly legal in the rest of the country. So be it; no one forces anyone to live there. But to cut violent criminals loose to virtue signal? Really?

    I’d like to hear someone defend this…I really would.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 01/17/2018 - 07:08 pm.

      A tiny ommission – As usual

      The crime occurred, some decades ago, when Neth, who today is a completely law abiding family man, was a teenager. A fact omitted to portray a completely different story.

  4. Submitted by joe smith on 01/12/2018 - 06:49 pm.

    Not having a merit based immigration policy

    is detrimental to America. Not that hard, if you have a skill and can get a job to support yourself, welcome in, if not, no entry. Join our country, join our workforce, pay taxes, learn English, follow our laws and you will be welcomed.

  5. Submitted by Tim Smith on 01/12/2018 - 06:56 pm.

    Facts of the case

    The law only allows an 18 month extension, thus 9/1/19. If The President really wanted to deport them he would not have made the extension. No one said they should be deported. The past two Presidents made the same extensions and no one reported it. Different times I guess.

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