Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


Karen Musalo


Throughout the course of United States history, there has often been a chasm between our ideals as a country, and our actions. Our foreign policy and immigration policy have been no exception – frequently betraying our stated commitment to democracy, respect for human rights, and protection of the persecuted. This article takes a close look at El Salvador, whose nationals make up a significant number of asylum seekers at our border. Our foreign and immigration policies towards El Salvador are illustrative of that gap between ideals and reality. We supported a brutal military during that country’s civil war, and adopted an unjust and biased policy towards Salvadoran asylum seekers. In recent years, as conditions worsened in El Salvador, the U.S. did too little to address root causes, and instead doubled-down on policies of deterrence and exclusion. In this article I argue that we, as a nation, can do better. We can welcome those fleeing persecution, while implementing policies that address the root causes of their flight. The article begins with a discussion of the conditions in El Salvador which lead to forced migration – from violence and corruption to climate change and natural disasters. The article next describes and critiques U.S. asylum policy from the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act to the beginning of the Biden administration; it details the substantive and procedural measures that have resulted in the denial of protection, and provides modest reform proposals. The article ends with an overview of recommendations for addressing the root causes of migration, with an appeal for the U.S. to live up to its ideals.

Included in

Law and Race Commons