One of the people we met with works for Catholic Relief Services in the area of immigration.
The issue of immigration is huge in El Salvador for several reasons:
1) 2 million Salvadorans live in the US; 6 million in El Salvador. Los Angeles, California, is the 2nd largest Salvadoran city in the world. Immigrants have been coming to the US for over 100 years. We were told that the majority of immigrants are documented, but some are not, including those who have entered illegally via coyotes through Mexico.
2) Remittances from family in the US provides 18% of El Salvador's GDP. It is the single biggest source of income in the country - $3.6 billion. The national budget is $3.6 billion. Remittances to Mexico are larger in terms of dollars - $25 billion - but only represent 3% of GDP.
3) Almost every family has migrant family members in the US. Some households receive up to 60% of their income from remittances - the average is 30% of household income, averaging $200 per month.
4) Because of the recession, remittances are down. And in some cases, remittances are going in reverse. Families in El Salvador sending money to family members in the US.
Obviously, immigration and remittances are high on the radar of average citizens and they watch for cues from the new administration very carefully. The social impact on families is huge as parents and children are not uncommonly separate for long periods.
The four main causes of immigration:
1) Economic opportunities. There are simply not enough jobs, especially following the collapse of the coffee market.
2) Violence. Immigration during the 12 year civil war, and leading up to it, was large. But violence is still a huge problem. The homicide rate for youth aged 15-30 is double. There were 4,368 homicides last year alone; the highest level of violence in all the Americas. One reason given is the "criminalized culture of youth" plus increased narco violence over the last 5 years. And deportations from the US have increased significantly, adding to an already challenged economy.
3) Family reunification.
4) Natural disasters and climate change. Hurricanes, drought, floods, and earthquakes - especially the deadly earthquake in 2001.
Globalization has had a very negative impact as have free trade agreements. As they described it: it's good for goods. It's bad for people.
Immigration policy in the US was described as outdated, dysfunctional, inhumane, and unjust. A law in 1965 sought to make immigration policy more equal - created a quota system that each country would be able to send 20,000 per year. But Lithuania and El Salvador have very different needs, for example, and it has created a huge backlog.
What would be just and humane immigration? The 20,000 quota should not include family unifications. Family unity should be a priority.
Final request: Support the DREAM Act