President Donald Trump on Jan. 8 announced plans to end a long-running temporary status program that gives Salvadorans affected by a 2001 earthquake space to rebuild their lives in the U.S. In an instant, Trump’s announcement put the future of some 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants and their families in question.
For Celina de Sola, the vice president and founder of the El Salvador-based NGO Glasswing International, the likely separation of immigrant families could exacerbate cycles of violence in El Salvador that have pushed many to migrate to the U.S. in recent years. AQ spoke to Celina De Sola about the decision as well as about her organization’s work to keep young people out of crime.
What might be the effects of the decision to end the protective status program for Salvadorans living in the U.S.?
De Sola: I am most concerned about separating families; absolutely nothing good can come of sending one parent away – for them or for the U.S. I also feel that reintegration into El Salvador would be very challenging, after living here in the U.S. for so many years. Family disintegration is a huge risk factor for violence. You have people who have lived in the U.S for two decades. They’re participating in the labor force and have kids who are productive U.S. citizens.
Ultimately what we want is to reduce crime by reducing vulnerability. But separating families makes people vulnerable whether they’re in the U.S. or El Salvador. And since returned migrants also have a much smaller social and familial network, that also increases the risk factors that lead to crime.
Central America has figured prominently in the discussion regarding crime and immigration during the Trump administration’s first year. What’s your perspective from working in the region?
The drivers for migration are so complex; it really comes down to extreme situations that drive people to leave. It’s about more than just having a better life. Nobody takes on the extremely dangerous journey to the U.S. unless they’re facing serious threats of violence.
Have you seen progress in keeping young people in the Northern Triangle out of gangs and other criminal activities?
It’s a really challenging time, but luckily we’ve seen young people thrive when equipped with the skills they need. By participating in educational, recreational and job training programs, young people not only increase their academic performance, for example, but they also reduce violent behaviors. The challenge is then scaling this work on a macro level.
AQ: What can Washington do to tackle the issues that drive migration?
We have worked with USAID for years on programs relating to education and human rights, and it’s important to continue these. The pattern of violence doesn’t change overnight. The stats might look bleak sometimes, but the young people we’re mentoring will live their lives differently. It takes time.
De Sola is the Vice President of Programs and Co-founder of Glasswing International, which works in over 15 countries to address the root causes of poverty and violence through education, health, and community empowerment.