Salvadoran immigration

2011-02-27 04:50:38

Salvadoran immigration to the United States is a new phenomenon, the product of a long civil war that decimated the country during the 1980s. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 655,165 Americans and 26,735 Canadians claimed Salvadoran descent. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimated in 2000 that another 189,000 Salvadorans were in the country illegally, though many groups believe that figure to be low. The number of Salvadoran Canadians is probably twice as high as the official count. Almost half of Salvadoran Americans live in the greater Los Angeles area, with significant concentrations in New York City, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. More than a third of Salvadoran Canadians live in Ontario, with large concentrations also in Quebec.
El Salvador covers 8,000 square miles in Central America. It is bordered by Guatemala on the west and Honduras on the north and east. In 2002, the population was estimated at 6,237,662. The people are largely mestizo (94 percent) with a small Amerindian population (5 percent). More than three-quarters of the population is Roman Catholic. El Salvador became independent of Spain in 1821 and of the Central American Federation in 1839. A fight with Honduras in 1969 over the presence of 300,000 Salvadoran workers left 2,000 dead. A military coup overthrew the government of President Carlos Humberto Romero in 1979, but the ruling military-civilian junta failed to quell a rebellion by leftist insurgents armed by Cuba and Nicaragua. Right-wing death squads organized to eliminate suspected leftists were blamed for thousands of deaths in the 1980s. The administration of U.S. president Ronald Reagan staunchly supported the government with military aid. After 15 years of conflict, the civil war ended January 16, 1992, as the government and leftist rebels signed a formal peace treaty. It has been estimated that 75,000 people died in the conflict.
Emigration from El Salvador was small prior to 1970. Fewer than 21,000 came to the United States between 1951 and 1970, many from the middle and upper classes, seeking greater economic opportunity and most frequently settling in Florida and California. There was virtually no immigration to Canada. The civil war in El Salvador, however, created the greatest refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere, uprooting a quarter of the country’s population and leading to massive immigration. More than half left the country, principally for Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The United States, heavily involved in the cold war conflict, was throughout most of the period reluctant to admit Salvadorans as political asylees, though almost 430,000 Salvadorans were admitted between 1981 and 2000. These came mainly from the lower and middle classes and were generally less well educated. Canada, on the other hand, began to relax its admissions policies in response to the war. In March 1981, the Canadian government made it easier for Salvadorans to gain entry on humanitarian grounds and two years later allowed them to apply for visas while outside the country. Of 38,460 Salvadoran immigrants in Canada in 2001, only 1,215 arrived before 1981.
On May 20, 1999, the INS relaxed application rules for permanent resident status for Salvadorans who fled repressive governments during the Salvadoran civil war. As a result, they were allowed to remain in the United States during their application process, and they were not required to prove that they would suffer extreme hardship if returned to El Salvador. As a result of these changes, more Salvadorans took advantage of the legal application process. Between 2000 and 2002, annual Salvadoran immigration to the United States averaged 28,000.