El Salvador’s New Initiatives Helping U.S. Regain Control of Southern Border

The number of Salvadorans entering the United States illegally is rapidly declining thanks to a series of initiatives orchestrated by newly-elected Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele.

In a recent sit-down interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Burkele confirmed that he and his administration are working hard to improve the country’s poor economic conditions, extinguish gang violence, and increase regional cooperation in order to reduce the number of Salvadorans migrating to the United States.

“The reality is that our whole economy is in—is in shatters. Nothing works,” Bukele said. “[Gangs] have a de facto power, a real one…”

Despite being the smallest country in Central America and smaller than Massachusetts, El Salvador has remained one of the largest sources of illegal immigration to the United States. In fiscal year 2019, roughly 90,000 Salvadorans were apprehended at the southern border, with the vast majority seeking asylum (even though experiencing gang violence and poor economic conditions generally does not qualify for protection in the United States.)

Understanding that El Salvador must improve its domestic conditions in order to retain its population, Bukele mentioned that he has launched a new security plan called “The Territorial Control Plan” under which he has deployed 8,500 troops across the country to take gangs head-on. The plan involves authorities examining young men for gang tattoos and contraband, while publicly shaming arrested individuals, according to eyewitness testimony from 60 Minutes journalist Sharyn Alfonsi.

Adding that he won’t negotiate with gangs because it “gives them legitimacy,” Bukele’s focus on popular groups such as MS-13 or the 18th Street gang intends to create safer communities, incentivize Salvadorans to remain in their country, and encourage financial investment into El Salvador.

“Trying to attract—investment, private investment, international investment, tourism, et cetera, everything will be stopped by if—if the perception is that El Salvador is a place that you will go and you will get killed,” Bukele pointed out.

Bukele’s security plan is not the only measure aiming to reduce migration to the United States. In September, El Salvador signed onto an asylum agreement with the United States where it agreed to accept asylum seekers who transited through its country before arriving at the U.S. border.

In his interview, Bukele told Alfonsi that while El Salvador is currently not prepared to absorb a large volume of asylum seekers, he will work to expand that capacity.  

The agreement is expected to deter economic migrants from selecting the United States as their final destination due to higher wages. Migrants are expected to seek refuge in the first “safe” (free from government persecution) country they arrive in and not bypass countries because of poorer economic conditions. Ultimately, this agreement restores integrity in the asylum process.

El Salvador’s security plan combined with the new asylum agreement have already contributed to a decline of illegal alien apprehensions at the border.

Apprehensions along the southern border have decreased from May’s peak of just over 144,000 in May to about 43,000 in November. Salvadoran apprehensions also fell from 12,000 in June to roughly 2,500 in October.

Though much work remains to be done, new initiatives under El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele are positive signs and are likely helping the U.S. regain control of its southern border.

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