The Justice Department has announced plans to wind down the Obama-era immigration program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to remain in the country. As many as 800,000 Dreamers, as those living in America under the auspices of the program, have signed up for the program, including 200,000 who’ve sought DACA status since Trump’s inauguration. Today’s announcement leaves more than a million people with open questions about their family’s future. For the over 33,000 immigrants from El Salvador one of those questions is this: Will the United States government deport children to a country where they are routinely and viciously victimized.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data, the largest percentage of Dreamers, by far, come from Mexico. America’s southern neighbor is an incredibly diverse country in which family is generally valued highly. Dreamers from Mexico were brought to America for different reason, but have diverse backgrounds. That’s less true for immigrants from El Salvador, the second largest contingent, who have their individual stories but largely came to escape endemic violence. El Salvador is one of the most violent places on Earth–the murder rate peaked at an outrageous 104 per 100,000 residents in 2015–and an outsized percentage of that violence is aimed at children, specifically young girls. The notably patriarchal country has the world’s highest rate of femicide, with more than a quarter of those murders committed against girls younger than 19.
El Salvador is frequently listed among the world’s most dangerous nations for women — on average, one in every 5,000 women there are killed annually and 10 endure sexual assault each day. Abortions carry 30-year prison sentences and even doctors who help Salvadoran women are subject to gang violence. According to the comprehensive report Childhood and Migration in Central and North America by the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refuge Studies, seven out of ten Salvadoran children suffer physical violence in their own home, including frequent sexual abuse for girls, and many more are targeted by gangs.
Human rights activists protest against femicide and violence in a demonstration at El Salvador del Mundo square in San Salvador on March 17, 2017.
This all goes a long way toward explaining why families might want to get their kids stateside and why El Salvadorans with Dreamer children will be living in fear until the Trump administration makes it clear how the program will wind down, ending what amounts to a humanitarian hostage crisis.
“In the context of the widespread poverty that exists in El Salvador, children and adolescents also migrate in order to pursue opportunities for education and employment,” the Hastings Center report explained. “They also seek opportunities to survive and thrive in societies not overrun by violence and discrimination against children.”
Despite whatever the current administration seems to think, Dreamers aren’t pouring onto American shores to rob people of their jobs and sell drugs. They’re brought here, through no choice of their own, by parents seeking better education and economic opportunities. Thousands of Salvadoran women have fled their country in recent years to give their children the chance to grow up in a place that accepts them and simply allows them to live peacefully. Today’s decision could rob them of that chance. The rollback of DACA is unlikely to do much to stop the rising tide of imagined violence. If Dreamers are sent “home” it is, however, likely to help criminals do harm to children.