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The Latest Link in Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Chain: El Salvador’s New Border Patrol

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La Hachadura, El Salvador—A brass band, a helicopter, seven drones, 20 police trucks—some of them newly emblazoned with Patrulla Fronteriza shields—and at least three members of the US State Department were present to inaugurate El Salvador’s new Border Patrol last week. Under a scorching late-morning sun on September 12, the Salvadoran minister of justice and public security, Rogelio Rivas, gave the order to a police official, who then shouted, Border Patrol, deploy! and the trucks started, slowly, leaving the parking lot of La Hachadura with the border crossing with Guatemala just to the west. The 100 new agents saluted their minister, and then kept standing around in the sun, some of them fanning themselves with their hats. Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, the director of the police, later called the deployment merely “symbolic.”

But deploying any security agencies in El Salvador is a fraught endeavor: after a 12-year civil war ended in 1992, during which the Army and police murdered tens of thousands of its own civilians—with heavy funding and training support from the United States—the country hasn’t been able to escape the specter of violence. In recent years, police units have been charged with a pattern of extrajudicial killings, and the insecurity in the country is still expelling tens of thousands of refugees every year.

According to Oscar Chacón, cofounder and executive director of Alianza Americas, “A Salvadoran Border Patrol, in essence, echoes the Trump administration’s containment strategy which, as we know, only has two results: human suffering and an increase in criminality and corruption that only favors those who can afford to pay.”

After mounting pressure from the Trump administration, as well as $150,000 issued from the State Department to re-outfit the new border patrol trucks, El Salvador seems to be kowtowing to Trump’s anti-immigration agenda. In total, the new agency will include 300 immigration agents and 100 agents from the Border Security Division of the National Police. The new forces will be a “strategic arm,” according to Rivas, to help ensure public security, and will be deployed to all of the country’s border crossings, as well as in the 154 “blind spots” between the ports of entry.

Rita Robles, researcher and migration expert with the Fray Matías de Córdoba Center for Human Rights in Mexico, explains that restrictive immigration policies only make “people search for more clandestine crossings further away from routes with at least minimal humanitarian assistance, as well as benefit trafficking groups.”

Given that the symbolic deployment took place at a site of departure more than entrance—last October, a caravan of about 1,500 people crossed the border into Guatemala—it’s hard to imagine that the new agency will be anything but a dissuasive factor for emigrating Salvadorans, or people from Nicaragua, or African nations heading north. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13.2, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own.”

The creation of the new agency comes after last month’s signed “letter of intent in furtherance of cooperation” between acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, Rivas, and Alexandra Hill Tinoco, El Salvador minister of foreign affairs, in which the two countries committed to “enhance cooperation to strengthen immigration enforcement” with the purpose of impeding irregular migration flows from and through Central America. The two countries plan to accomplish this by “augmenting border security and supporting criminal investigations targeting gangs, human smuggling, and trafficking networks and providing technical support to El Salvador’s efforts to establish repatriation capacity.” In other words, the United States got El Salvador to sign on both to stop people from leaving and to continue to accept deportees, which is no small matter: ICE deported more than 15,000 Salvadorans in 2018. Todd Miller, author of Empire of Borders, said that Washington’s pushing El Salvador to create a new Border Patrol shouldn’t be a surprise. “A key strategy shift to US border policing in the post 9/11 era has been to pressure, train, supply, and even finance the creation of border patrols in other countries,” Miller wrote via e-mail. “Expanding the US Border Patrol is more than about hiring new agents, it’s about hiring new countries.”





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