Since 1980, approximately 2 million Salvadorans have become residents of foreign countries, principally the United States. While the 2000 U.S. Census recorded California’s Salvadoran population at about 273,000, the University of Albany’s Mumford Institute, using other survey methods, found it closer to 500,000. Scholars and community leaders say persistent waves of immigration since 2000 may have significantly increased that figure. In modern development terms, these immigrants are referred to as the Diaspora, defined by Peggy Levitt in her 2001 Global Networks article “Transnational Migration: Taking Stock and Future Directions, as “individuals who have been exiled or displaced to nation states by a variety of economic, political, and social forces.”
The displacement of many Salvadorans has been attributed to the armed conflict lasting from 1980 to 1992, but Salvadoran immigration began before the war and continues to this day. The U.S.-based Salvadoran immigrant network represents all levels of Salvadoran and U.S. society, including elected officials ― for example, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Victor Ramirez Maryland Assembly members, and Walter Tejada, Arlington County (Va.) Board Member. Pre-war U.S. residence is common to the most successful Salvadoran immigrants, while many post-war arrivals are still trying to gain a foothold. The core of the Salvadoran Diaspora network, the community organizers and volunteers, however, arrived in the U.S. during the war with a common desire to change conditions for themselves and for those they left behind. Some work here as teachers, lawyers, doctors, civil rights, community and labor organizers and entrepreneurs; most are the blue-collar workers who do the grunt work that allows cities like Los Angeles to run smoothly. Driven by family obligations, interest in cultural preservation, a philanthropic spirit and nostalgia, many, even those struggling to survive, maintain an active connection with home. In economic terms, this translates into more than $3 billion in remittances to El Salvador almost every year, a contribution whose sheer volume drives El Salvador’s economy and development.
Coincidentally with the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992, the Salvadoran Diaspora of Southern California launched a transnational movement that has since spread to Metropolitan Area of Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Las Vegas, Houston, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Gainesville, Memphis, Miami, and Long Island, among other cities. The launching pad was the Salvadoran community’s hometown associations (HTAs) that have been a feature of the Salvadoran Diaspora since 1980 when the first one, Asociación Migueleña Siglo XXI, was founded in November of 1986 by immigrants from San Miguel, a department located in eastern El Salvador’s.
The focus of most HTAs in the 1980s was preserving cultural identity, but eventually the membership began to contribute relief and humanitarian aid to their communities of origin with funds raised through dances, tours, dinners, picnics, beauty pageants, raffles and canvassing corporations. On average each event nets $2,000, meaning the effort required of the determined community volunteers who do the hard work has been relentless.
Yet the momentum of this Salvadoran transnational assistance movement has only grown. In 1994, nine California-based Salvadoran hometown associations founded Communities United for Direct Aid to El Salvador (COMUNIDADES); within three years its membership more than quadrupled to 37 associations. This HTA’s organized group, received support, including technical and financial assistance, from El Rescate. El Rescate’s records reflect the existence of 62 hometown associations in Southern California, 12 in the San Francisco area, four in Las Vegas, nine in Houston and more than 20 associations in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, of which 12 are members of United Salvadoran Communities (CUS).
In June 2001, Salvadoran hometown associations and El Rescate joined forces with the Central American Foundation for Sustainable Human Development (FUCAD) to seek support from municipal governments in El Salvador for the HTAs’ initiative toward collectively funding economic and social development projects. As a result of their lobbying, the Corporation of Municipalities of the Republic of El Salvador (COMURES), representing the country’s 262 mayors, invited a delegation of HTA leaders from Los Angeles to participate in the XVII National Congress of Municipalities held in October 2001. During that historical event, a resolution was passed that led to the mayors’ unanimous approval of The Program for Permanent Support to Municipalities of Origin, an agreement signed by both COMURES and HTA’s leaders.
Reacting to the HTAs’ success with the mayors, in February 2002 the Salvadoran government, through the Office of the Vice President and the Social Investment for Local Development Fund (FISDL), created a framework for cooperation with citizens abroad. The idea was to facilitate selected social development projects with matching funds. El Rescate and HTA’s responded immediately by inviting (as a petition by the Salvadoran Ambassador in the United States Mr. Rene Leon) Vice President Carlos Quintanilla and Miguel Siman, FISDL’s president, to El Rescate’s Los Angeles office, where the government’s delegation officially presented the program’s vision and objectives to leaders of 18 Salvadoran hometown associations and announced the opportunity to compete for $114,000 in the pilot program.
The California HTAs received $51,000 from the government and raised $24,999 in matching contributions for several local development projects in the communities of origin.
Since that initial bid for government funds in March 2002, three more solicitations for bids have generated $3,704,611 in direct matching funds for investment in development projects involving Salvadoran associations in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Houston. Of this amount, the associations have contributed $825,869, the municipal governments $931,587 and the FISDL $1,905,955.00. The Salvadoran government finances its program with funds from an Inter-American Development Bank loan — not from the national treasury into which pour taxes generated by family remittances and services in El Salvador that emigrants use.
Currently, El Rescate, hometown associations, the counterpart organizations in El Salvador, FUCAD and the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are working together to promote social and productive projects. The participating Southern California HTAs represent 11 Salvadoran towns: Cacaopera, Suchitoto, San Isidro, Cojutepeque, La Laguna, Nueva Concepcion, Sesori, Chalchuapa, Cara Sucia, Ilobasco and Juayua. The relationship forged with IFAD demonstrates the potential of Salvadoran HTAs to contribute to international and transnational development policies. In May 2002, Salvadoran HTA leaders from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and New York, along with representatives of COMUNIDADES and El Rescate, discussed possible cooperation on projects promoted by IFAD. Some 35 associations from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Houston participated in follow-up workshops organized in California by El Rescate and IFAD with the cooperation of hometowns associations from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Houston and FUCAD. The resulting agreements have already been applied in communities in the Salvadoran departments of San Vicente and Morazán.
• El Rescate and LA Water and Power Community Credit Union Project
• El Rescate and the Rockefeller Foundation Community Remittance Productive Project Grant
• Desarrollo de Base: Revista de la Fundacion Interamericana
• Salvadorian Hometown Associations and IFAD Project
• IDA program Report
EL RESCATE’S RESPONSE TO COVID-19
WHO WE ARE
El Rescate is an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) based in the heart of Los Angeles, California, that seeks to empower Latino immigrants to improve their political and economic well being and promote their civic participation as U.S. citizens. In accordance with this mission, El Rescate offers a host of free legal and educational services in order to meet the needs of our underserved community. Our organization, which was founded in 1981 as a response to the flow of refugees fleeing civil war in El Salvador, has for the last 39 years been a crucial resource for the area’s growing Central American community. In this way, El Rescate also partners with other local community-based organizations to regularly provide resources and health fairs, “Know Your Rights” workshops, etc.
WHAT WE DO
Currently, the legal services we provide are the following:
- Family Petition
- Adjustment of Status
- Appeals for INA
- Advanced Parole
- Cancellations of Removal
- Change of Address
- Change of Venue
- Evidence Request Response
- Affidavit Support
- FOIA Requests
- TPS Pre-Registration
- Motions to Reopen
- Fiance Visa
- Residency Card Renewal
- Work Permit Renewal
- U Visa
- Special Juvenile Immigrant Visa
In addition to these multilingual legal services (available in English, Spanish, as well as Quiche and Kanjobal) El Rescate has established itself as a respected voice in the Latino immigrant community through its ongoing outreach and education efforts, including weekly “Charlas” that keep the community informed on current immigration law, and its annual “Feria Agostina” festival that seeks to further connect our organization with the nationalities it serves.
WHO WE SERVE
While our organization was initially created as a resource for El Salvadoran refugees, the immigrant population we serve has come to include the nearly 546,000 undocumented immigrants from Latin America living in Los Angeles County. Since March, El Rescate has served more than 1,100 people, roughly 90% of which are from Central America. Latino immigrants being a notoriously hard-to-reach and low-income community, it is El Rescate’s mission to provide these individuals and families with the services they need to improve their lives and political standing.
The “Other” category includes: 11 individuals from South America, 8 individuals from non-listed Central American countries, 5
individuals from Asia, and one individual from Spain
OUR RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS
Throughout these unprecedented times, El Rescate has remained steadfast in its mission to meet the needs of Los Angeles’ Latino immigrant population. In this way, considering the cruciality of the services we provide, El Rescate only closed its doors for a single day after the Stay At Home order was announced in early March. Since then, El Rescate adjusted to the crisis by modifying its procedures according to the health and safety measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while continuing to provide essential services to the community.
The first of these modifications was changing how we host our weekly “Charlas,” in which our staff would normally give a presentation on the most current changes to immigration law, and provide an opportunity for attendees to receive a short legal consultation. As a direct result of social distancing guidelines, however, we are no longer able to host this event (which regularly draws the attendance of fifteen persons a week) or even take the walk-ins that would normally come by our offices if they were unable to attend the “Charlas.” In light of this reality, El Rescate began to accept ten legal consultation appointments a week. As a result of the pandemic, however, these ten appointments are spread out among three days of our now four-day workweek; a stark contrast to our previous six-day workweek. This reduced schedule also meant that we also had to cancel our citizenship classes on Saturdays which roughly 20+ people attended weekly. This modified schedule, therefore, while meant to reduce the exposure of our employees to the virus, has had significant financial consequences with regards to how many staff we can afford to employ, as well as the income of those who remain.
In this way, despite the financial strain of COVID-19 on our office, El Rescate has been working tirelessly to come up with innovative solutions to address the needs of a struggling community that is suffering from the economic and health effects of this pandemic perhaps more than any other. In this way, our organization has had to rethink how it will continue its community outreach efforts acknowledging that all public events are canceled for the foreseeable future. A part of our initiative therefore to continue community outreach during this difficult time has included holding “Know Your Rights” workshops at nearby food banks, and spreading the word throughout the community about citizenship applications via the circulation of our flyers, brochures, etc. That being said, a key element of our outreach efforts since the start of the pandemic has been growing our social media presence. This summer initiative to expand our reach via social media was by all means successful as our outreach team reported a nearly 200% increase in our Facebook page’s followers and likes since July, as well as an average reach of nearly 3400 people per post in recent months.
The following maps and charts were curated by our team as a means to demonstrate the increasing reach of El Rescate’s services within, and beyond, Los Angeles County between March and November 2020.
Additionally, however, as El Rescate’s work continues here in Los Angeles, our partner organization in El Salvador, The Salvadoran Migrant Institute (INSAMI), has remained committed to their mission of integrating the voice and perspective of migrants, both within and outside of El Salvador, into the process of migration policy creation. INSAMI, being an initiative of the Salvadoran Diaspora leadership, is formed by anthropologists, economists, sociologists, analysts, jurists, psychologists, scientists, entrepreneurs and community leaders for the purpose of advocating for the needs and interests of the Salvadoran migrant population abroad.
In this way, much like El Rescate, the nature of INSAMI’s work means that the services they provide are essential to the community they serve. These services include: medical consults, psychological care, COVID-related assistance, business management training, political incidence, and project research. With El Rescate’s support, INSAMI has succeeded in establishing a comprehensive care clinic in which Salvadoran migrants may gain access to a variety of resources and opportunities meant to foster this community in particular’s laboral and social participation. Since the beginning of the pandemic, INSAMI has demonstrated great resilience in the face of such unprecedented circumstances, immediately creating new ways to reach the deported population like installing a call center in which clients’ personal information is reported in a virtual format. This innovation was met with great success as INSAMI reports that in six months this center was used by 871 people, 341 of which called directly, and 530 of which used the Whatsapp messaging feature.
Additionally, with the help of El Rescate’s donations, INSAMI has been able to continue the consistent delivery of medicine to beneficiaries, as well as providing psychological support via telephone or video conferences as increased tension over the pandemic’s economic impact continues to fuel the growing number of people in need of such services.
In this way, of the 429 deportees who have benefited from INSAMI’s services since the pandemic began, we must also consider that a majority of these individuals have children at home who are, albeit indirectly, also greatly dependent on INSAMI’s work. It is therefore through El Rescate’s partnership with The Salvadoran Migrant Institute that we are able to support not only the betterment of Salvadoran migrants living in our home community of Los Angeles, but also of the countless individuals residing both within and outside of their home country of El Salvador in need of assistance. We are incredibly proud to contribute to the purposes of such an incredible organization and it is our hope that whether it be via direct or indirect financial assistance, medical donations, public policy guidance, or networking support, that we can continue to fight for a better future for the people of El Salvador, at home and abroad.
In conclusion, in times of such intense uncertainty, now more than ever it is of the utmost importance that the Latino immigrant community secure their status and participate in the civil and political life of the country they call home. At El Rescate we do more than provide legal services, we protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and we are committed to doing so under any and every circumstance – even a global pandemic. El Rescate has and will continue to dedicate itself to the empowerment of the Latino immigrant community of Los Angeles and to its mission of reaching the hard-to-reach and serving the underserved. We invite you to join us in this effort by contacting us at (213) 387-3284 or going to elrescate.org