By Horus Alas

Student activists from PLUMAS and the Coalition of Latinx Student Organizations hosted a discussion on the Temporary Protected Status program and social strife in El Salvador.

The discussion, hosted in the Art-Sociology Building March 1, allowed students to gain insight into the importance of the TPS program and historical background on Salvadoran immigrants, one of its key constituent groups.

Senior mathematics major and PLUMAS president Madelyne Ventura began the discussion by stating its intent to, “… [raise] awareness for such an important issue that’s going to impact our local communities within the next week and a half.”

TPS grants immigrants from violence or disaster-stricken countries the provisional ability to legally live and work in the United States. The program was enacted for El Salvador in 2001 after a series of earthquakes devastated the country.

It has since grown to cover nearly 200,000 Salvadorans nationwide and will not be renewed past March 9, following the Trump administration’s move to end the program.

Ventura, along with CLSO president and senior criminology and criminal justice major Dioni Gomez and sophomore women’s studies major and PLUMAS Programming Chair Paula Molina Acosta, shared a short film by Maryland alumnus Gerson Elias.

Elias is a TPS recipient from El Salvador and president of this university’s Latino Alumni Network. In his video, he pens an open letter to President Trump in response to the TPS cancellation.

“My hope is that I will show you that I am not the terrible immigrant you so passionately believe I am,” Elias says in the clip. He proceeds to narrate a personal history filled with struggle and ultimately, success.

“I have done everything possible to do things right since I came to this country, contributing to the community in every way I can,” Elias says at the end of his testimonial.

Ventura, Gomez and Molina Acosta moved on to point-by-point discussions on Salvadoran TPS recipients.

“Many Salvadorans cannot go back due to current conditions in El Salvador … We’re going to talk about the poverty and violence behind the reasons why,” Ventura said.

The student leaders analyzed El Salvador’s economic woes in-depth and noted that lack of economic opportunity precipitates emigration en masse.

“All the wages [in El Salvador] are much lower. So for instance, North Face pays garment workers $0.96 for every $163 jacket that they create … If you can’t live off the wages you make, why wouldn’t you leave?” Molina Acosta noted.

The speakers also explained how violence perpetrated by the MS-13 gang is often singled out as a particularly Salvadoran problem, but in fact it originated during Los Angeles gang wars of the 1980s and spread to El Salvador after gang members were deported.

“The murder of women in 2017 was 11.9 percent [of reported homicides]. A lot of these victims are linked to sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“It’s been very hard for women to come to government officials for some type of justice when they feel like they will get some type of retaliation from the people who rape them or even from police officials,” Gomez said.

After Gomez, Ventura and Molina Acosta concluded their remarks, they invited Associate Professor of Central American and US Latino/a Literatures Ana P. Rodriguez to share some historical context on the issues facing El Salvador today.

“El Salvador in the 1980s received about $2 million a day in military and economic aid … The U.S. constantly pumped money into this area in order to fight the spread of what they said would be Communism,” Rodriguez said of a region in Central America called the “Northern Triangle.”

Since the U.S.-sponsored coup against Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, Central America has been a hotbed for Cold War proxy conflicts, Rodriguez explained.

“What I want you to keep in mind is that the violence has always been prevalent. And it’s not just from the ‘80s. I always say it goes back to the conquest of the Spaniards that brought colonization,” she continued.

El Salvador’s most dire period of violence occurred between 1979 and 1992, when right-wing terrorist groups rose up against a leftist Junta and launched a Civil War that would leave over 75,000 civilians dead.

“There’s always economic migration. Because when you have political instability, you’re going to have economic instability. You’re not going to have any jobs, so people will migrate for different reasons.

“And in the present, we continue to have migration. Again, it’s economic reasons, environmental reasons — earthquakes, etc. — globalization and the violence,” Rodriguez summarized.

After Rodriguez finalized her remarks, senior information systems and marketing major Edwin Lopez explained his stance on how the TPS community might persevere despite the difficulties ahead of them.

“Everybody here after this is going to start cultivating their ideas on how to make it better. For example, me, I think creating services like businesses are the way to go. Somebody else could be interested in books, and they’re going to start their own thing. That grain of sand is going to create beaches in the future,” he said.

Speaking on the importance of the information presented, Ventura remarked, “No one tells you the back history that there is between the United States and the Northern Triangle, as [ Rodriguez] was talking about, and this helps you learn.

“I’m a math major, and I don’t learn about anything like this. I could turn a blind eye and not even educate myself, but instead I’m trying my best to seek resources and learn more because you can’t believe everything that’s out there.”

Amid the Trump administration’s fervent anti-immigrant policy stances, TPS holders, DACA recipients and many other immigrant groups will face an uphill battle in maintaining their status and livelihoods in the United States.

Thanks to discussions hosted by PLUMAS and CLSO leaders, however, our campus community has access to vital information about these groups and how to advocate for them.

PLUMAS will be hosting their second annual DREAM Gala on April 12 to raise funds for DACA renewals among the student community.

Featured Photo Credit: Students and faculty gather to discuss TPS (Horus Alas/Bloc Reporter).

Horus Alas is a freelance writer and can be reached at heliocentricnonchalance@gmail.com.

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