Global Politics

Migrants are being deported back to Central America, but their home countries aren't ready for them

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Credit:

Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ

Salvadoran children at an after school violence prevention program drafted with money from USAID.

The journey from Central America to the United States to try cross the border illegally is dangerous. But so is going back home.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

That's the flip side of the immigration crisis that's left thousands of women and children caught at the US border awaiting deportation. Jude Joffe-Block, a reporter for KJZZ in Phoenix, travelled to El Salvador to find out what awaits migrants who are forced to return home.

She hasn't see that big of a population return to El Salvador just yet. But there is a lot of anticipation on the ground that big numbers of people could return in the coming weeks and months. "These countries aren't setup for that right now," Joffe-Block says. 

The US knows that, and is making American aid money available to Central American countries. Joffe-Block says that's a good indicator that those big numbers of migrants actually will be arriving: "The US is actually giving money to the 'North Triangle countries' of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to improve their infrastructure so that they are able to be ready when more women and children are arriving on planes."

That's right: Planes. While deportees heading to Mexico are often sent home by bus, the ones from farther south will be flown. Joffe-Block says when the deportees arrive, government officials from El Salvador interview them, give them a papusa or two — along with the equivalent of a few dollars — and send them on their way.

But in many cases, what they're returning to are the some conditions that caused them to flee in the first place. El Salvador has problems with gangs and violence, and Joffe-Block says that President Salvador Sánchez Cerén is reluctant to say that violence is driving children out of the country. But the president is trying to find ways to make communities safer, starting with an expansion of community policing tactics.

Those tactics seem to have succeeded in the once-troubled neighborhood of Santa Tecla. There, the former mayor and current vice president brought in a police force mounted on bicycles to encourage interaction with citizens. Cameras were also installed to monitor activities. "Some people are saying that it's working," Joffe-Block says.

But she also says others in El Salvador doubt the program can be scaled up to deal with the extent of the gang problem.

Another thing that's uncertain is whether Salvadorans are still flocking to the United States in huge numbers. Joffe-Block says there's been a campaign in the country to let people know both the dangers of the journey and the chances of being deported — even if you manage to enter the US. "But how much that's translated to a change on the outflow," she admits, "I'm still not sure yet."

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