Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Saca stumps for TPS

This Washington Post piece on Sunday talks about Saca's visit to Washington last week. Initially it was announced that he was going to meet with Bush as another extension of TPS went into effect. Alas, Bush had other things to attend to. But that didn't stop the government from publishing an old photograph in a full-page ad heralding this new ARENA government achievement. Yesterday the headlines in one paper noted that the government campaign to help re-inscribe people in the TPS program was problematic, since Salvadoran consulates were not open on weekends--precisely when most Salvadorans were likely to have time to deal with this issue.

What the Post didn't say, and what was reported locally, was that this may, in fact, be the last TPS extension Salvadorans will get. By the time it expires, it will have been 5 1/2 years since the 2001 earthquakes, which were the ostensible justification for this round of TPS. Dating back to 1990, TPS has become an almost permanent fixture of US-Salvadoran relations. That represents a heck of a lot remittances (topping $2 billion a year now), helping to relieve poverty in a country that does so little for its own people--a country with one of the lowest tax takes in the hemisphere.

Last Thursday the Los Angeles Times ran a long story about TPS, but got several key facts wrong about the earthquake damage. It noted that 300,000 homes were destroyed; the number is half that, with the other half being "damaged." As for 1.5 million people left without adequate housing? This USAID factsheet vaguely says that that number of people "were affected." The article notes the 1990 TPS origin, but fails to note that Salvadorans were the first beneficiaries of this mechanism. My point here is that it seems the U.S. has to come up with a darn good argument for TPS to appease (or fend off) the far-right, nativist, anti-immigration wing of the Republican Party. So articles like this one, which overstate the case and which are seemingly sympathetic to the Salvadorans' plight, also play right into the Administration's hand.

Now I'm pretty radical when it comes to opening up our borders. But it's also worth noting that US lenience towards Salvadorans, in particular, has essentially replaced the massive US infusions of aid during the 1980s, allowing for remittances that have essentially functioned as one big subsidy for ARENA's neoliberal economic policies. One La Prensa Gráfica reporter astutely picked up on this U.S. favoritism last week when he noted Saca's comment that the extension of TPS was not just a humanitarian decision made by the U.S., but also something that "is offered only to friendly countries."

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