Things That Matter

U.S. Gives $98 Million In Aid To El Salvador To Fight Gang Violence And Reduce Northern Migration

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Over the last few years, El Salvador’s reputation for gang violence and corruption has gained national attention. In 2015, San Salvador, the country’s capital and largest city, had one of the highest murder rates in the entire world, at 108.5 murders for every 100,000 people. In 2016, homicide across the country fell by 20 percent, but there were still 5,278 murders for the year, Reuters reported. The country has also seen a spike in the number of corruption cases levied against those who hold power in the highest offices of the country.

In an effort to help curb the violence, the U.S. has sent $98 million in aid to El Salvador’s government, Reuters reports.

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The $98 million, which was approved by the U.S. Congress in 2015, is part of a larger plan — the Alliance for Prosperity Plan in the Northern Triangle of Central America — designed to reduce gang crime and corruption in El Salvador and Central America. According to White House archives, the money will fund programs that will “better address the needs of those threatened by criminal gang violence and domestic violence, human rights defenders who have been targeted, and others.” However, U.S. intervention in Central America’s affairs is based on domestic concerns as much as it is in humanitarian interests in El Salvador.

Over the last few years, the U.S. has seen a surge of immigration from those looking to escape gang violence in El Salvador.

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In El Salvador, violence between gangs, including MS13 and Barrio 18 — which were founded in the U.S. — has affected much of the country. Families of gang members can find themselves targets of retaliation and bystanders can find themselves caught up in the violence as well, leading to countless deaths.

To escape these conditions, many citizens have fled the country, often to the U.S, the New York Times reports. In some cases, gang members tired of the continual violence in El Salvador have also fled to the U.S. Part of Congress’s approved plan, according to the White House archives, is to develop “cooperation between the United States and Central America to ensure that fewer migrants embark on the dangerous journey to the United States.”

Attorney General Douglas Meléndez is leading the charge against El Salvador’s political corruption, the Washington Post reports.

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The money granted to El Salvador was also designated to combat corruption in the nation’s government, which plagued the previous administration. Current Attorney General Douglas Meléndez has filed corruption cases against many officials, including a case against former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. Meléndez’s attempts to crackdown on corruption are in stark contrast to previous Attorney General Luís Martínez, who facilitated fraudulent and corrupt behavior among Salvadoran politicians and elites.

To combat gangs, police forces in El Salvador have been given freedom to use excessive force, Reuters reports.

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In 2012 and 2013, the gangs in El Salvador declared a truce, leading to a dramatic reduction in the number of murders in the country. The truce “dissolved” in 2013, according to the Associated Press, and those officials responsible are now facing charges, saying the pact led to “illicit negotiations” between government officials and gang members. The terms of the truce may have led to less murders, but it also gave gangs more power in the long run, the New York Times reported.

By 2014, gang violence resumed in El Salvador, but this time, according to Reuters, the Salvadoran police were allowed to attack gangs “without any fear of suffering consequences.” This approach led to countless deaths among citizens at the hands of brutal authorities. Juanita Ortega, whose son who was killed by police, told the Guardian in February, “I tell you sincerely, we fear the soldiers more than we ever feared the gangsters.”

Whether or not the Northern Triangle’s Alliance for Prosperity Plan succeeds, one thing is for sure: El Salvador needs help.

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This past January, The Guardian reported that El Salvador experienced a dubious distinction: it had its first day without a murder in two years. Though the country is fighting back against both corruption and violence, we’re still a long way from finding out the impact this $98 million will have in the fight for the country’s future.

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The Victims From That Heartbreaking Photo Of A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing Into The US Have Been Laid To Rest

Things That Matter

The Victims From That Heartbreaking Photo Of A Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing Into The US Have Been Laid To Rest

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Photographs of Valeria, lying face down in the water with her little arm wrapped around the neck of her father, Oscar Alberto Martínez, broke hearts around the world and underscored the dangers that migrants undertake in trying to reach the US.

Now, their bodies have been laid to rest back in El Salvador.

Credit: @NBC10Boston / Twitter

A man and his young daughter who drowned trying to cross into Texas were laid to their final rest Monday, a week after a heartbreaking image of their bodies floating in the Rio Grande circled the globe.

About 200 relatives and friends followed a hearse bearing the bodies of Óscar Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter Valeria inside La Bermeja municipal cemetery in southern San Salvador. The ceremony was private, and journalists were not allowed access.

Many wore black and wept. They carried flowers and green palms, and some held signs bearing the logo of the Alianza soccer team favored by Óscar Martínez, who belonged to a group that supports the club. “For those who cheer you on from heaven,” one read.

Mourners stood with the family in their pain and time of need.

“I knew them. They are good people, and I can’t believe they died this way,” said Berta Padilla, who arrived earlier along with about 30 others on a bus from Altavista, the working-class city the Martínezes called home before they left in early April, headed for the United States. “We came from Altavista to be with Óscar’s family,” Padilla added in an interview with TIME. “We are with them in their pain.”

After the burial, relatives stayed behind at the gravesite to say a last goodbye, said family friend Reyna Moran. “This is very painful, most of all because of the baby. … They went in search of a better future, but everything came to an end in the river,” Moran said.

A collection of floral arrangements adorned the grave, including one from El Salvador’s president and first lady. Interior Minister Mario Durán was among those who attended.

The father and his daughter have been buried in a special section of the cemetery.

A municipal police officer said their graves were in a section of the cemetery named after Saint Óscar Romero, the San Salvador archbishop who devoted himself to helping the poor and was assassinated in 1980. Romero, who was canonized last year, is buried in the crypt of the city’s cathedral.

Before their heartbreaking deaths, the family had plans to make a new life for their daughter in the US.

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Martínez, 25, and his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, 21, had been living with his mother and apparently felt that their salaries working at a pizza parlor and as a restaurant cashier would never be enough to purchase a modest home in their suburb of San Salvador.

That dream to save money for a home led the family to set out for the United States, according to Martínez’s mother, Rosa Ramírez.

The neighborhood they left behind in El Salvador is a humble bedroom community where most people live in low-rise, two-bedroom homes with a combination kitchen-living room-dining room, worth about $10,000-$15,000 each.

Meanwhile, El Salvador’s president has taken responsibility for the deaths.

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The president of El Salvador said his country was to blame for the deaths of a Salvadoran man and his daughter who drowned last week while trying to cross the Rio Grande into the United States, The New York Times reports.

“People don’t flee their homes because they want to,” President Nayib Bukele said Sunday during a news conference. “They flee their homes because they feel they have to.”

“We can blame any other country, but what about our blame? What country did they flee? Did they flee the United States?” Bukele said. “They fled El Salvador.”

READ: This Cartoonist’s Right To Free Speech Is Under Threat As He Loses His Job For A Cartoon About Trump’s Failed Immigration Policies

This Salvadoran Father Of Two Was Deported Early In The Trump Administration And Has Been Allowed Back To The US

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This Salvadoran Father Of Two Was Deported Early In The Trump Administration And Has Been Allowed Back To The US

AP Photo/Nomaan Merchant

Recently, we have been hearing of story after story of families ripped apart by inhumane immigration policies.

And for one Houston father, that’s exactly what happened. He was detained and deported to his native El Salvador after living in the US most of his life. But thankfully, this story has a happy ending as he’s now been allowed to return to the US to live with his family.

A Houston father of two American born kids was deported to El Salvador but now he’s back in the US with his family.

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A 33-year-old father of two American-born children was allowed to return to the US on Monday, two years after being deported to El Salvador during the first months of the Trump administration.

Jose Escobar was welcomed at Houston Intercontinental Airport by a group of supporters. He was accompanied by his wife, Rose, and their two children, Walter and Carmen, who had flown to El Salvador in June to visit him.

They were all together in El Salvador when they got word that US immigration authorities had approved waivers that would let him return to the US.

Watch the emotional moment here:

The Houston-based advocacy group FIEL contacted local attorney Raed González, who took up Escobar’s case. He filed paperwork with U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services requesting waivers that would allow Escobar to return to the U.S., citing the hardship his deportation had placed on Rose.

Those waivers were granted last month.

He had been forced to help his wife parent their children via Facebook.

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He had video calls with his family at night, but he was often scared and worried about leaving the family home, as the gangs roaming the streets were known to target people who had come back from America and once held him up. He would watch the video from his home’s security cameras remotely.

His children, meanwhile, struggled with the pain of losing their father. And with Jose having trouble making money in El Salvador, Rose Escobar supported the family on her own as a hospital receptionist and relied on savings that were quickly dwindling.

Escobar originally came to the US as a teenager with Temporary Protected Status after the 2001 El Salvador earthquake.

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El Salvador suffered a devastating earthquake on January 13, 2001, and experienced two more earthquakes on February 13 and 17, 2001.

In the aftermath, to help support refugees fleeing the country, the US granted Temporary Protected Status to El Salvador. This meant they could come to the US without the risk of deportation.

Then, under the Obama administration, he was arrested and detained for several months.

After an intense lobbying campaign, the local field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released Escobar in January 2012 “so he could get his affairs in order,” the agency said last year.

In February 2017, shortly after Trump took office and widened the priorities for detaining and deporting immigrants without authorization, Escobar was arrested during what was supposed to be a routine ICE check-in.

The next month, he was deported to El Salvador. He called his wife from the San Salvador airport to tell her what had happened.

Escobar moved to a town that’s about three hours from San Salvador, living with relatives and working intermittently as a laborer.

But now the family is living together reunited in their home of Houston.

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On Monday, Escobar arrived with this lawyer who flew with him from El Salvador because he said he didn’t want anything at the last minute to go wrong. Escobar’s wife and children, his lawyer and other supporters held balloons shaped like butterflies, a symbol, they said, of migration.

Rose Escobar told other families with deported relatives to use their voice and urged lawmakers to listen.

“We need you to be the voices for other Escobars, children who need their daddy, children who need their mommy,” she told the Houston Chronicle.

As the weeks turned into months, then years, she said friends and strangers gently urged her to think of moving on. To forget.

She added: “People kept saying, ‘It’s taking so long, you should just give up,’” she said. “I would always say, ‘He’s coming home. Soon, in God’s time.’”

READ: He Has Been Deported Twice And Is Now Fighting His Third Deportation To Stay With His Sick Child

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