Bienvenido a Casa – El Salvador Welcomes Home Deported Immigrants

Immigration and deportation policy, and its implementation in the United States, are scarred by discrimination, bigotry, violence, and a blatant disregard for the well-being of immigrants and their families. El Salvador – a country bearing the name “The Savior” – offers a glimpse of hope for immigrants, or more adequately noncitizens, who are forced to return to a country they may no longer call home.

Immigrants in the United States are often stigmatized as criminals, but this is not representative of the entire population. In their 2008 article “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Migration” Jacqueline Hagan et al. study Salvadoran deportees. Their work expands on the reality that the majority of deportees are poor Latin American immigrants deported for “non-criminal reasons, such as immigration violations, use of fraudulent documents, and petty crimes that were committed years earlier” (Hagan et al. 2008). Their study includes new arrivals apprehended at a port of entry, as well as settled migrants including “authorized permanent residents who may have violated immigration provisions or committed relatively minor criminal offenses.” They add to a more comprehensive narrative of immigration, which includes people deported after a long spell of residence in the United States, periods often exceeding 10 years – long enough to forge “stable family and household relationships in the United States” (Hagan et al. 2008). 31% of the respondents in their study reported living with a spouse or child and 78% had become part of the U.S labor force.

El Salvador, recognizing the hardships suffered by those deported, decided to help “los compatriotas que un día viajaron a alcanzar el sueño Americano sin imaginarse que ese sueño se convertiría en pesadilla” (la prensagrafica) – the compatriots who one day traveled to reach the American dream without imagining that that dream would become a nightmare – and develop a program called Bienvenido a Casa. Established in 1999, Welcome Home aims to “ease the reintegration of deportees into Salvadoran society” (Hagan et al. 2008), a difficult feat considering the hostile reception they receive from those in their supposed “home.”

In 2002, in an article titled “Unwanted in Houston, unwelcome at home / 230 Salvadorans are stuck in a local prison because their government won’t accept them,” the Houston Chronicle reported: “The last thing people in El Salvador want is to have immigrants returned there after they have problems here,” said Nestor Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Houston’s Center for Immigration Research. In his assessment, “Salvadorans believe those forced to return from the United States are changed for the worse…Many deportees suffer discrimination and have difficulty finding work in San Salvador.”

The program includes services such as “(1) funds and information to help deportees reach their homes; (2) referrals to an array of social service providers; (3) counseling services to assist with the trauma and stress of detention and deportation; and (4) a job placement initiative to help deportees locate work, a monumental task for many deportees in a country with high unemployment rates and little tolerance for the growing U.S. deportee population” (Hagan et al. 2008).

The effort is admirable. It counts with the collaboration of several organizations including the Ministry of Health, Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Tourism among others (laprensagrafica). It is comprehensive program with the potential to alleviate some of the damage caused by a country which presents itself to the world as the model of democracy and opportunity, but threatens the very livelihood of its neighbors.

References:

Hagan, J., Eschbach, K. and Rodriguez, N. 2008. “U.S. Deportation Policy, Family Separation, and Circular Migration.” International Migration Review 42: 64–88. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-7379.2007.00114.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1747-7379.2007.00114.x/full

Hegstrom, Edward. 2002. “Unwanted in Houston, unwelcome at home / 230 Salvadorans are stuck in a local prison because their government won’t accept them.” The Houston Chronicle. November 20, 2002. Retrieved: May 11, 2012. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl/2002_3601643/unwanted-in-houston-unwelcome-at-home-230-salvador.html

“Programa ‘Bienvenido a casa’.” Laprensagraficavideo on Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXSdNUxWmio

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