January 15, 2018
The Trump administration’s termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 200,000 Salvadorans living in the United States damages children, their families, and our communities. As a pediatrician working with immigrant families, I witness the devastating effect of deportation on families. I have studied and worked in Central America periodically since 1978, and know my own country’s influence in causing the mass migration of families, who flee violence and natural disasters.
El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. The violence affects ordinary people, and has affected my friends and colleagues. For a decade, I volunteered regularly as a doctor on a Salvadoran island. The mother of one of the doctors I worked with was shot and killed as she left work because her employer had not paid the monthly fee to the neighborhood gang. Another friend, the head of the island’s sea turtle hatchery, reported a gang member to police, after the gang member threatened his mother. When the gang member was released from prison, he murdered our friend. There were three other gang-related deaths on the island that year.
United States policy has greatly contributed to the current violence. Deporting innocent people into the chaos the US has exacerbated is not fair or just. The United States funded El Salvador’s military government during its 12-year civil war. Over 75,000 people died, most civilians killed by armed forces and death squads; weapons were supplied by our government. Many Salvadorans fled to the US. A few became involved in gang activity in Los Angeles, and were deported back to El Salvador. This gang activity, which originated in the US, is now plaguing this tiny country. In 2001, two earthquakes caused further devastation, and these refugees were granted TPS. Their protected status has been extended since then because of the violence in El Salvador. On Jan. I8, the Trump administration terminated TPS for Salvadorans.
As a pediatrician, I am especially concerned about the impact of termination of TPS on the immigrants’ children, most of whom were born in the US and are US citizens. As a parent, protecting my children was foremost in my mind; virtually all parents in my clinic feel the same way. If I were a Salvadoran parent facing deportation, would I take my children with me and increase their risk of witnessing or becoming victims of violence, or leave them with a relative or friend in the US, and risk the emotional devastation of separating our family?
I am worried about the emotional impact on the communities here, losing neighbors, church members, coworkers, and friends. I am deeply worried about the soul of our country. The United States is a country of immigrants. I have the great privilege of working in a clinic with immigrant families. The parents are filled with hope for the future of their children. They work hard, help each other, and give back to our larger community. They want to give their children the education they never had. These are the ideals that made the United States great.
Deporting immigrants is not only devastating for the children and their families, but also damaging for our community, and the ideals that are central to this country.
Lauren Herbert, MD, FAAP
Pediatrician, PeaceHealth Medical Group, Springfield, OR