The ongoing flow of migrants from Central America to the United States has its roots in the US-sponsored wars in the region during the 1980s, as detailed in this article from the January 1987 issue of the Socialist by Todd LeFurge, an activist with the DC Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES). The destruction perpetrated during those conflicts caused misery in the region that still drives people to migrate for better lives or, frequently, to save their lives. The efforts during that time to establish the District of Columbia as a Sanctuary City — a campaign backed by the local DSA chapter — bore fruit with a declaration by then-Mayor Marion Barry that was strengthened by subsequent administrations. Largely in response to President Trump’s brutal anti-immigrant policies, the DC government stepped up its defense of migrants in 2017 and afterward, including providing legal aid and assistance with asylum applications.
- Bill Mosley
There’s a firm linkage between the campaign against civilian populations in Central America by US-trained agents of repression and the swelling refugee population in Washington, DC.
One-sixth of DC’s population is now made up of Salvadoran refugees from the savage war of oppression that has displaced 30 percent of that country’s people. Because the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies located here consistently argue that our 100,000 Salvadoran brothers and sisters here in his city are “economic refugees,” local human rights and solidarity organizations are launching a campaign to counter that disinformation and instead make DC a Sanctuary City.
The DC Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and the DC Sanctuary City Committee are working to broaden public knowledge of our Salvadoran sisters’ and brothers’ desperate plight — here and elsewhere — and the deep roots of that plight in systematic US imperialist policy of supporting antidemocratic repression and training the forces that are the agents of that repression and brutality.
The systematic nature of the brutality and its linkage to concrete US policy are well documented:
There is a direct connection between thissystematic terror carried out as a result of US policy and the crowded miseryof the Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees in DC who nonetheless countthemselves as the lucky ones compared to those in the camps in their homelands.They are five to an apartment, maybe 30 to a house.
But the situation is not at all hopeless. The establishment of the District of Columbia — the home of the State Department and the INS — as a Sanctuary City would be the focus of a human rights network here and around the country that would take other concrete, positive actions. Telegrams and letters could respond in a timely way to specific instances of human rights abuses. The network and its supporters could also send humanitarian aid directly to progressive organizations for food production and clinics. In conjunction with supporting those organizations, we would be strengthening pressure for negotiations aimed at opening up the wrecked Salvadoran countryside for more work by those organizations, demonstrating alternatives and organizing people.
Establishment of DC, the national capital, as a Sanctuary City would force the media to take notice, thereby supporting the sanctuary movement nationally. Through church presentations, which are the heart of our sanctuary campaign, we can greatly expand opposition in the churches locally. We rarely have openings to the churches and the media as we have in this campaign, and this adds to the appropriateness of the work and the need for progressive people’s support.