Immigration and TPS: How the ‘Shithole’ US Created Salvadoran Emigration


Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed his racist chauvinism when referring to immigrants who come from “shithole” countries.

The countries Trump’s comments referred to included El Salvador, Haiti and several African nations. His comments not only disparaged those countries, but also the immigrants from there as he asked why the U.S. cannot get well-educated immigrants who are doctors from nations like Norway.

His insults reflect the perception that many U.S. citizens and the First World have regarding Latin American, Caribbean and African immigrants. Before these comments, Trump decided to cut off over 200,000 Salvadorans from Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which provided them a stay from deportation and work eligibility in the United States.

The Western media’s fascination over the “shithole” comment fails to underscore how his words play into the global capitalist-imperialist system.

Racism is not the only factor behind such comments. One must look at the historical material conditions which underscore the history of why immigrants would want to emigrate from their home countries into the so-called “land of the free.” This history begins not with the Latin American, Caribbean and African countries Trump referred to in such a derogatory manner, but with the real “shithole” country which funds and arms comprador bourgeois elites who massacre their populace: the United States.

Dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century, the United States has been interfering in El Salvador’s politics. Since then, they’ve put military juntas into power and have opposed progressive leaders who have not served their imperialist interests.

In 1979, the Junta Revolucionaria de Gobierno, JRG, came to power and began a series of massacres, tortures and disappearances against leftist movements. The JRG executed a successful coup with the aid of U.S. imperialist forces and continued to receive arms and military funding for the next several years.


Guerrilla fighters for the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional. | Source: La Izquierda Diaria

1980 was the year the Salvadoran people stood up against the JRG and civil war broke out across the nation. The leftist Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN, coalition confronted the military-controlled government. For the next twelve years, civil war ravaged the country, resulting in over 70,000 deaths, massive destruction of infrastructure, internal displacement of one million people and hundreds of thousands refugees fleeing to other countries to find safety.

Massacres such as the one in El Mozote resulted in 700-1000 civilian casualties. While the government massacred, executed, raped and pursued scorched earth tactics against revolutionaries and civilians alike, the U.S. imperialists continued to provide support to the JRG denying any human rights violations.

El Mozote

Victims of the Mozote Massacre. | Source: Wikimedia Commons

U.S. imperialists trained death squads to target leftist civilians and activists, ultimately aiding in the destruction and displacement of millions of Salvadorans. Women, children, leftists, peasants and the Indigenous were those who faced the brunt of the severe violence at the hands of the government backed by imperialists.

Now, more than one and half million Salvadorans live in the United States.

During the years of the civil war, it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s population emigrated to neighboring countries and the United States. In 1990, the administration of former President George H.W. Bush placed Salvadoran immigrants on TPS, which grants them protections from deportation and eligibility to work.

The original TPS ended in 1992, but many Salvadorans were able to stay through the deferred enforced departure program. After this ended, TPS was once again granted to Salvadorans after a 2001 earthquake struck the nation. Since then, it was extended, with around 234,000 Salvadorans living under TPS and hundreds of thousands more living undocumented without protections.

Salvadoran immigrants were key for U.S. imperialist interests, especially when they aided in the reconstruction of the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks and make up a large portion of low-wage agriculture and construction workers.

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Displaced Central American agricultural workers in the United States. | Source:

In El Salvador, the huge number of emigrants and displaced severely damaged the economy alongside damages from the military junta’s scorched earth policies. Emigration continues today as high rates of violence push many Salvadorans to look for better and more peaceful lives outside of the country.

El Salvador has one of the highest rates of emigration, especially among skilled labor, which stands at 31.5 percent. This leads to labor shortages and demands within the country, making the economic situation more difficult for the majority of people. This labor demand is satisfied through undocumented Hondurans, Nicaraguans and other Central Americans coming through the border into El Salvador looking for work creating border friction and super-exploitation of those in need of work.

The U.S.-funded war in El Salvador created these issues, as evidenced by the fact that the country did not have them before the conflict.

For the global capitalist-imperialist system, it is necessary to have a super-exploited minority that exists both in the core First World nations and in the periphery Third World countries.

Immigration policy and deportations work to maintain a stable balance between super-exploited populations in both areas, while also fulfilling promises to the First Worldist racial chauvinism that blames immigrants for social ills in the core nations. This is the predicament that many Salvadorans, Haitians and other immigrants in danger of deportation face.

What is often left out of deportation stories is the social impact they have on the lives of immigrants who are separated from their families and the violence and economic hardship they face back home.

Of course, these problems have little to do with the actions of the immigrants. They are the direct result of imperialist war, plunder and destruction on the part of the U.S. imperialists and the comprador bourgeoisie that allies with the imperialists.

When looking at Trump’s recent comments, it’s important to remember that the real “shithole” country is the United States, which has deprived the Global South of their resources and national sovereignty through plotted destruction.

1 Comment
  1. […] an end to, albeit reformist, semi-legal conditional work permits for Salvadorean migrants under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and the undocumented children who were brought to the US, referred to as Dreamers, under the […]

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