El Salvador Struggles to Re-Absorb U.S. Deportees This week, NPR's Jennifer Ludden looked at what happens when a country — in particular, El Salvador — has to take back a large number of its own nationals deported by the United States. What are the effects of their migration and their return?
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El Salvador Struggles to Re-Absorb U.S. Deportees

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El Salvador Struggles to Re-Absorb U.S. Deportees

El Salvador Struggles to Re-Absorb U.S. Deportees

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All those immigrants being cleared off our streets are beginning to flood the streets of their home countries. The United States has cracked down on illegal immigration, sending home about 287,000 people in the past year alone. Their stories are spreading now to people like Ann-Maria Ortiz, who is a housekeeper in El Salvador.

Ms. ANN-MARIA ORTIZ (Housekeeper): (Through translator) Yes, I've thought about going to the U.S., but I hear it's more dangerous now. You hear about immigration agents and how they're sending people back. Some people are choosing not to go, but I'm still thinking about it because we're very poor here.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jennifer Ludden introduced us this week to a pair of people sent back to El Salvador. Which leads us to another question, Jennifer Ludden. What happens when a country has thousands of stories like this?

JENNIFER LUDDEN: They feel overwhelmed, Steve. We met with the director of the Ministry of Immigration in San Salvador, and he gave us the numbers. In 2004, about 3,500 migrants from the U.S. were deported back to El Salvador. This past year, it was 20,000. So it's been doubling and doubling again. And you get a sense that officials are really scrambling to cope, trying to figure out how to help these people integrate, but they admit they're not really there yet.

People are just kind of being left to their own. And as the minister told us, a lot of them are thinking of coming back to the U.S.

INSKEEP: Well, what happens to the economy of a place like El Salvador when you have in a year the equivalent of a small city, 20,000 people, coming back to a very small country?

LUDDEN: There's a lot of concern here. Let me give you the context. Tiny El Salvador has a third of its population living outside the country. And as one economist with the United Nations told us, this has been a really big benefit for the government there. Not only are these migrants here sending a lot of money back home, they're not demanding education, health care, jobs.

So now you've got a government that is already unable to produce enough jobs for all the people coming into the job market every year, let alone provide for those people who are coming back. On top of this, you have a slowing of the growth of remittances. And the economist told us he's hearing anecdotal evidence.

People are defaulting on loans. They've been relying on the remittances from the U.S. to pay their loans, and now they can't make those payments.

INSKEEP: So you've got a guy who might have been sending money back home and now, instead of sending money back home, he's back home making demands on the economy and changing the culture perhaps as well.

LUDDEN: Exactly. And changing public opinion. You did hear there with the woman worried about how it's more dangerous now and there's more a sense that people will get sent back. Although I met a guy who left in November - he had heard nothing of it. He had his own concerns; he needed to help his family.

And on the other hand, you've got people who are well aware, they've heard the stories of the crackdown and still, they say, well, I need to see my family there, I need to make a living that I just can't make here. One paralegal who has a radio and Web chat show who gives advice to people about immigration issues, he didn't think there would be much impact of the crackdown. He said it's just going to make the smugglers more rich. They're going to charge more money.

INSKEEP: How does this experience, repeated thousands of times, affect people's opinion of the United States in this neighbor of the United States, El Salvador?

LUDDEN: You know, it's very complex, but you've definitely got people who look up to the United States, they've got friends and relatives living here, they appreciate the opportunities that they get to provide for their families. You also have this ongoing resentment. People really resent how this is breaking up families. It's a culture of migration. It has been for a long time.

And we spoke to one woman in a marketplace who felt like, you know, look, I know I have nothing. Come to my house. It's empty. But my family's together, and she thought that was the better option than splitting up. Her name is Hilga Ortensia De la Inez(ph).

Ms. HILGA ORTENSIA DE LA INEZ: (Through translator) There is an emptiness in the house if one spouse leaves. And people always need company, so they find different partners. Then they stop sending money back, and it's always the children who suffer.

LUDDEN: This woman has three siblings here in the U.S. She knows about their experience, but she told us, I would rather be poor but together.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jennifer Ludden covers immigration. She reported in El Salvador with our producer Marisa Penaloza. Thanks very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: And you can hear their earlier reports at NPR.org.

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