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U.S. Decision To End Salvadorans' Status Reverberates Through El Salvador


Many Salvadoran residents of the United States are in a state of shock this morning. Yesterday the Trump administration announced that it will be ending a humanitarian program that has allowed nearly 200,000 of them to live and work in this country. This program followed earthquakes in 2001 that devastated El Salvador. Now they're worried about their future and also worried about their relatives in El Salvador. NPR's Nurith Aizenman has more.

NURITH AIZENMAN, BYLINE: Practically all of these Salvadoran immigrants work, and a huge share of them regularly send a portion of their earnings to family in El Salvador.

MANUEL OROZCO: Approximately 80 to 85 percent are sending money back home.

AIZENMAN: Manuel Orozco is a political scientist with the D.C. think tank Inter-American Dialogue. He's spent decades tracking these money transfers, or remittances, as they're called, using government and financial data as well as detailed surveys he's conducted.

OROZCO: We estimate that this is about 150,000 people sending to households in El Salvador.

AIZENMAN: On average, each immigrant sends back $4,000 a year, for a grand total of about $600 million annually, more than official U.S. aid to El Salvador. It's about 2 percent of El Salvador's GDP, and El Salvador has only been growing at about 2 percent a year. Orozco says that makes this remittance money a major lifeline for El Salvador's economy.

OROZCO: In practical terms, if you were to stop this money, their economy couldn't grow.

AIZENMAN: But he says even that statistic doesn't quite capture the impact. Most significant is his finding that 1 in every 20 families in El Salvador depends on these remittances to get by. Take Edyt Mendoza de Urqilla and her husband. She's 58. He's 62. They grew up poor in a small town. She was only able to study through eighth grade and is a homemaker. He always worked as a security guard making $300 a month. So they were already struggling when the 2001 earthquakes hit.

EDYT MENDOZA DE URQILLA: (Through interpreter) Our house was totally flattened. We lost everything.

AIZENMAN: Fortunately for them, their eldest son was in the United States at the time, illegally. But once he got the work permit through the temporary protected status program, he was able to get a better-paying job remodeling bathrooms in Gaithersburg, Md. Soon he was helping his parents cover the cost of a new house in El Salvador.

MENDOZA DE URQILLA: (Through interpreter) He's just given us $8,600 to pay it off completely.

AIZENMAN: Now, critics of the temporary protected status program say it was always meant to be temporary. But Mendoza de Urqilla says the money her son sends, about $500 a month, is still just enough to tide them over.

MENDOZA DE URQILLA: (Through interpreter) The salaries we earn here don't even cover our cost of food, let alone hospital costs when you get sick.

AIZENMAN: She does have three other adult children in the U.S., but they haven't been able to contribute as much because they're in the country illegally so they make less. Now that her eldest is set to lose his work permit too, Mendoza de Urqilla doesn't know how she'll cope. "I'm worried for my son," she says, "and for myself." Nurith Aizenman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.