U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar confronted Elliott Abrams, the administration’s newly appointed envoy to Venezuela, during a House Foreign Affairs hearing this week. She questioned the former assistant secretary of state’s role in the Iran-Contra affair and his support of Central American governments that committed human rights abuses during the Cold War.
Rep. Omar went after Abrams for his effort to downplay a massacre committed by the El Salvadoran military when he was serving under the Reagan administration. After hundreds of civilians were killed in the village of El Mozote in December 1981, including 131 children under the age of 12, Abrams and other administration officials dismissed reports of the massacre as exaggerations. The Atlacatl Battalion, which committed the massacre, was trained by U.S. advisers and two months after El Mozote, Abrams cited the battalion’s “professionalism.”
The massacre at El Mozote was one among the many atrocities that took place during the Salvadoran Civil War. The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.
The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Salvadoran government was considered “friendly” and allies by the U.S. in the context of the Cold War. By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.
The civil war was a major cause that forced many Salvadorans to leave their country for political or security reasons. Today, an estimated 195,000 Salvadorans have been living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which granted temporary legal status to immigrants from certain countries fleeing natural disasters and civil wars.
Through almost two decades, previous administrations from both parties have renewed the TPS status of tens of thousands of people, allowing them to establish themselves in the U.S. and grow generational roots. But the Trump administration said it would be ending TPS for a majority of recipients, putting at risk the lives of over 300,000 people.
TPS holders raise families, own homes and pay taxes. Ending their protective status without an avenue to lawfully remain in the U.S. would have truly negative effects on society and the economy. Many TPS holders have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years, have deep ties to the community and have contributed significantly to the American economy. Salvadoran, Honduran, and Haitian TPS holders alone are parents to over 273,000 U.S.-citizen children. These children will either be forced to leave the country they’ve always called home or be ripped apart from their families.
Those seeking asylum today have inherited a series of crises that drove them to the border. Decades of U.S. intervention have created this migration crisis. Now, congress must step in to enact a permanent solution for those who will be left behind by TPS terminations. It would be a moral failure to turn its back on the most vulnerable even as some of the most devastating humanitarian crises continue to unfold.
Call your members of Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them to fight for a permanent solution for TPS recipients. To find out more about TPS, click here. And if you have any questions, contact us here.