Maryland is home to this nation’s fourth largest bloc of Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S., and the last time this was cause for concern (if you can call it that) was in 2012 when Baltimore’s then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made it clear she wanted to convince more of them to live in her city. Widely seen as hardworking and family-centered, Salvadorans were considered key to reversing Baltimore’s population decline and reviving the economy. The mayor and the plan’s supporters didn’t view this as some act of compassion but a strategy born of necessity — a win-win for new arrivals and an aging East Coast city that needed a spark of energy and productivity that comes with an influx of immigrants.
Yet this week President Donald Trump put Salvadorans on quite a different list. His administration announced that nearly 200,000 people from El Salvador, many of whom have lived in this country since the 2001 earthquakes devastated their Central American nation, will no longer be welcomed in the U.S. as part of the Temporary Protected Status program. Beginning in September of next year, the refugees will no longer be legally allowed to live and work here, a country that has been their home for most of a generation. The administration isn’t making the argument that they represent a security threat, that they are criminals or potential terrorists or a drain on government resources or even that life in El Salvador is now a bowl of cherries. Rather, the administration is simply making the humanity-free argument that the 2001 earthquake is long since past. Conditions are no longer as dire. Everyone needs to pack up and leave the only homes their children have ever known.
Sure, you can argue that the Salvadorans have not been treated as “temporary” immigrants as the program was originally envisioned, but so what? Productive members of society are productive members of society. Why turn them away now after so many years?
In the context of that decision, we can’t contain our skepticism of President Trump’s extended public toying today with the idea of some grand bargain on immigration that resolves the issue of the so-called Dreamers along with offering a path to citizenship for millions more. He suddenly wants to “take the heat” for angering the anti-immigrant voters he so assiduously courted and inflamed during the last election? There is widespread sympathy in both parties for the 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and to whom President Barack Obama extended protection known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Because of President Trump’s action, the DACA program is set to expire in a matter of weeks, and now he is reducing them to little more than a bargaining chip in a bizarre quest not to bring reason to U.S. immigration policy, not to improve border security or protect this country, but to fulfill an especially repellent and outrageously wasteful campaign promise to build a physical barrier along the nation’s southern border. The size of the wall Mr. Trump envisions is dwarfed only by its monumental stupidity — not only because it would do nothing to reduce the number of people who simply overstay their visas (which represents two-thirds of what has been a shrinking problem anyway) but because the administration is said to be proposing spending less on proven border security tactics like surveillance, radar and patrol boats to help pay for an $18 billion monstrosity.
Kicking out the Salvadorans is part of what appears an effort by President Trump to go nationality-by-nationality to show the door to Latino and Latina immigrants, legal or illegal, having pulled the rug from TPS status for Nicaraguans last year and potentially for Hondurans this summer. His antipathy toward Mexicans was established on the day he declared his candidacy, having declared them “not our friends, believe me” and linking them to drugs, crime and rape. And his botched response to Hurricane Maria has hardly endeared him to the Puerto Rican community, and they’re U.S. citizens.
Perhaps the Salvadorans will be tossed in with the Dreamers and spared deportation if congressional Democrats cave in to Mr. Trump’s never-ending quest to build his monument to hate and fear. That might be the best result — if Americans are willing to ignore their country’s proud history of welcoming new arrivals and live with the consequences of billions of dollars wasted in the name of one man’s vanity and xenophobia. It’s clearly too much to expect Congress to step in and embrace real immigration reform that recognizes that the U.S. can’t afford to roll up the welcome mat entirely. Who knows? The day may return when rationality governs the public square and we stop treating immigrants seeking a better life as animals or criminals. It was not so long ago.