SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CN) — Salvadorans rejoiced throughout the United States and El Salvador this week upon learning that President Nayib Bukele had negotiated an agreement with the Trump administration that permits more than 200,000 people and their families to remain in the U.S. and continue working legally.
People with Temporary Protected Status have been living in the United States since at least 2001, when two devastating earthquakes in El Salvador caused massive casualties and destruction. President George W. Bush reacted to the humanitarian crisis by granting TPS to all Salvadorans in the country, whether with authorization or not.
This humanitarian relief was renewed by succeeding Republican and Democratic administrations without opposition until 2018, when Trump ordered that protected status be terminated not just for Salvadorans but for Haitians, Hondurans and Nicaraguans, many of whom had been living with protection since the 1990s.
Faced with this reality, President Bukele agreed to discuss measures to discourage people, especially women, from trying to cross Guatemala and Mexico only to end up in a U.S. prison camp or on the streets of Mexico.
For acknowledging the social and economic problems that forced so many of his citizens to emigrate, Bukele’s critics say he has truckled to the demands of a hostile U.S. administration.
Details of Salvadoran cooperation with ICE have not been disclosed, but it is believed that ICE will teach biometrics identification systems to Salvadoran immigration officials.
A key point of the criticism of Bukele — and it is a minority opinion — is the "safe third country" provision that requires El Salvador to accept deportees from the United States who allegedly passed through El Salvador on their way north.
Notwithstanding the fact that virtually nobody passes through El Salvador on the way north, El Salvador has awarded 40% of the 79 asylum applications submitted in the past five years, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees — a rate about 39% higher than in the United States.
Whether the “safe third country” provision is a fiction or not, the agreement appears to have been linked with the extension of TPS, and that extension increased Bukele’s already high esteem in his country. Remittances sent home from the United States are a major part of the Salvadoran economy, so the extension of TPS is a lifeline. And it’s just the latest in a string of victories the 38-year-old president has rung up in his five months in office.
Since Bukele took office on June 1, 12,000 alleged gang members have been taken off the streets. Prisons have been cleansed of cellphones, and jailed gang leaders are no longer able to buy a weekend pass to chill with the homies. Gang doctors can no longer sign letters to get the leaders out of prison on medical grounds.
El Salvador has been transformed since Bukele’s inauguration, but the past lingers. Victor, in his seventies, describes it outside a market in Cuscatlán.
"We lived through the war, we had hopes. The army came and killed the young rebels. They even killed the aged. We lost hope when the peace came and things didn't get better. My village hates the old politicians. Bukele may be a good man, but it's hard for us to trust anybody."