By Stan Santos
A History of Forced Migration
The history of immigration to the United States from the south is one of forced migration. Waves of immigrants flee their homes to escape violence and poverty caused by centuries of unfair trade and exploitation of their natural and human resources. This will not stop until the American public recognizes this, seeks reconciliation and pays reparations for the material and social harm that has been done. Otherwise, the violence and northward movement will continue without end.
Intervention and repression in Central America
In 1979, Nicaraguan Sandinistas prevailed in their insurrection against the Somoza Debayle regime which had been in power for 45 years with the support of the United States. Under the Sandinistas, Nicaragua has recovered and prospered: it is the most stable democracy in Central America. In El Salvador, the drama of insurrection against an entrenched military, supplied and trained by the U.S., was different.
While support for the Frente Farabundo Marti de Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) and the opposition was gathering, the right wing felt confident enough to exercise a brutal repression. In 1980, the military murdered Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador. Later that year, soldiers raped and murdered three nuns and a lay missionary, all U.S. citizens.
The murders of Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Ursuline Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan, caused President Jimmy Carter to halt a $7 million-dollar aid package, although he would later reinstate it. Succeeding President Reagan would later expand military aid to El Salvador.
In 1989, elements of the U.S. trained Atlacatl Division murdered six Jesuit priests and their housekeepers at the Central American University, purposely spreading the brains of the rector on the grass. These brutal actions and the deaths of over 75,000 Salvadorans finally spelled the beginning of the end of 12 years of war. Peace accords were signed in 1992. However, the memories and trauma of the bloody civil war remain as open wounds today.
In Guatemala, President Jacobo Arbenz was elected in 1951 and took uncultivated lands from the control of the United Fruit Company which had annual profits of $65 million dollars. Despite being compensated for the idle land holdings, United Fruit lobbied the U.S. to oust Arbenz. In 1954 U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency carried out a covert operation and sent Arbenz into exile. He reportedly committed suicide in Mexico.
But the aspirations of rural poor would not be suppressed, and a civil war ensued which lasted from 1960 till 1996 and cost the lives of over 200,000, mostly from indigenous communities.
In 2009, the elected leader of Honduras, President Jose Manuel Zelaya was removed by a violent U.S. supported coup d’état. At the time, U.S. President Barack Obama said: “We believe that the coup was not legal, and that President Zelaya remains the president of Honduras, the democratically elected president there.” He further stated: “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backwards into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition, rather than democratic elections.”
However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to declare the action a coup, which allowed U.S. support to continue to flow to the new regime. Zelaya was forced out and replaced by appointment and eventually a new president was elected. Juan Orlando Hernandez, was again elected in violation of the constitution and despite clearly illegal manipulations of the vote count.
According to the L.A. Times, “Hernandez’s government is among the most authoritarian in the hemisphere. Its human rights record is deplorable. Dozens of journalists and human rights activists, including the indigenous rights activist Berta Caceres, have been killed — almost always with impunity.”
In recent weeks the media has been bombarded by tweets and pronouncements that a “Huge caravan” of refugees from Honduras was “marching on the U.S. border”.
“About 80% of the refugees are from Honduras. Many said they are fleeing poverty, but also political unrest and violence that followed the swearing in of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández after a highly contested election last year. The group often breaks into chants of “out with JOH.” They also chant “we aren’t immigrants, we’re international workers” and “the people united will never be defeated.” -BuzzFeed
What is TPS?
Temporary Protected Status was established by Congress through the Immigration Act of 1990 and was extended to Salvadoran refugees following a series of natural disasters in the region. However, the federal statute includes persons from countries where, “there is an ongoing armed conflict within the state and, due to such conflict, requiring the return of aliens who are nationals of that state to that state (or to the part of the state) would pose a serious threat to their personal safety…”
It also includes countries where, “there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster’ and “the foreign state is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return to the state of aliens who are nationals of the state”. TPS was extended to almost a dozen countries, including El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Through the eyes of an immigrant
One Salvadoran youth told the Community Alliance that he came to the U.S., “…because in our country we have no future. El Salvador is very violent due to the gangs. Young males are constantly threatened if they do not want to belong to the gang. Many youths who do not want to belong to the gangs are disappeared, and their families never know what happened to them. That is the reason we seek an opportunity to live here. That is why my mother made me come to the United States.”
His visa expires in October, along with his mother’s.
A 30-year-old immigrant from Honduras told Community Alliance, “I come from the region in the north where many land occupations and violence has occurred. Since the coup, everyone knows that the rich wanted to oust Zelaya because he was helping the poor. That is why they removed him.”
“Most of the people are against the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez, because he and his family are for the rich. The only reason Juan Orlando is President is because he was supported by the United States. The election was stolen.”
“Zelaya supported the MUCA, the peasant movement and gave them land. The richest man in Honduras, Miguel Facusse took advantage of the people due to their poverty and gave them small amounts of money for their parcels. When they discovered they had been fooled, they wanted their land back.”
“That is when the killings started…in the area where I live, because of the land occupations.”
“They killed Berta Caceres because she was the leader of COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) in La Esperanza, in the Department of Intibucá. Then they killed José Ángel Flores, president of MUCA (Aguán Unified Peasant Movement) and peasant leader Silmer Dionisio George.”
The man fled Honduras after the murder of a close associate and death threats were made against him. His brother was subsequently murdered, and it was made clear that if he returned, he would be next. He has no attorney and is seeking assistance for his asylum case.
Conclusion: The extension of TPS lies with the Trump administration, which must order the Attorney General to certify that the conditions exist in the home country to warrant continued protection. While not an impossible task, it presents a daunting challenge for activists in the face of the political climate and balance of power.
At this time, the Trump administration is considering extending TPS to those who may want to leave Venezuela, a government which is in the sights of the United States for “Regime Change”.
Email Stan Santos at Alianzadefresno@gmail.com