The Declaration of Independence reads, in part: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for approximately 17 years, give or take the whims of whatever reality TV star is President at that point.”
Maybe that final third isn’t an exact quote. But it represents the apparent perspective of the present-day US government, which just informed more than 250,000 Salvadoran migrants that they’ve reached their quota of American life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. About 200,000 of them are estimated to have no other path to being allowed to stay in America. And so, beginning September 2019, they will face expulsion.
The Salvadoran nationals came to the United States in 2001 after being granted Temporary Protected Status because a massive earthquake leveled their homes. And the Trump administration argues they’ve been welcome in America long enough, citing repairs to earthquake damage (not that the migrants’ own homes were the ones rebuilt). And while the earthquake is years in the past, it’s not like El Salvador has become a safe place to live again; in recent years, a raft of killings and gang violence has made the country one of the most violent in the Western Hemisphere, which has lead to even more migration.
And now those migrants have been told to head back to the violence. Some anti-immigration hawks have described the process as sending the Salvadorans “home,” but for many, “home” has become the United States, where a sizable number of the migrants own houses and businesses. Some of them aren’t just established residents; they’re actually employing Americans and fellow immigrants, and they’re contributing to government revenue through taxes.
It’s a bit like telling Tom Cruise, “We know you have a tremendously successful career in Hollywood, but no one said it would last forever, so you have to move back to an abusive household in rural New York.” Although, frankly, it’s a lot crueler for the Salvadorans; unlike Cruise, they’re not responsible for The Last Samurai.
Some Salvadorans have been caught up in a guilt-by-association situation because the street gang MS-13 has Salvadoran origins. And there’s no doubt that MS-13 is a scourge. Then again, Cliven Bundy and his family openly battled police and US Marshals, and no one is trying to herd white people back to Nevada.
Expulsion day is still 18 months away, and it will face court challenges and issues of enforcement. Alternately, the Salvadoran immigrants could also pull a move from their expelling president’s playbook: When obligated to follow a legal mandate, just don’t do it.