Lessons From El Salvador On Migration, Community Activism And Human Rights

Aug 1, 2018

It’s been more than two decades since the Salvadoran Civil War ended, but the refugees the crisis created are once again in the news.

Since 1990, Salvadorans have been granted Temporary Protected Status in the United States. But earlier this year, the Trump administration stripped them of their protection, ordering nearly 200,000 people to return to El Salvador.

Many are parents to American children and haven’t been back to the war-torn country in decades. And El Salvador itself is still recovering from the crisis, as gangs imported from America have made life in the country even more difficult.

Recently, a group of Wisconsinites traveled to El Salvador as part of the Madison Arcatao Sister City Project. Barbara Mergen Alvarado has been working with the project since the mid-90s and was part of the trip along with state Sen. LaTonya Johnson and Jonathan Solari, from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

"We've got to keep working on what's going on here in the U.S. because these are our brothers and sisters," says Barbara Mergen Alvarado.

The group visited a migration center in the country's capitol, where a group of deportees from the U.S. had just arrived. 

Solari says, "I think one of the most difficult things about that experience of seeing the migration center in San Salvador was not in that center itself, but upon returning to this country and seeing the way we are treating the brothers and sisters and children of the people that we build relationships with." 

They were surprised by the conditions at the migration center since they seemed to be better than U.S. facilities. Solari says the migration officials they spoke with emphasized their commitment to making re-entry to El Salvador as easy as possible. 

"I was struck by the healthcare that was provided, the counseling, the resources that were there awaiting them," says Solari. "Now, of course, once they leave that facility, life is difficult ... It's a beautiful country, the people are inspiring, [but] things are hard there."

Alvarado adds, "We've got to keep working on what's going on here in the U.S. because these are our brothers and sisters, and ... we realize people are coming for a better life, people are coming for opportunities."