Guest post by Katie Dingeman-Cerda and Elizabeth G. Kennedy. Katie is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Denver. Elizabeth is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Geography at San Diego State University. This post is the seventh instalment of the Border Criminologies Themed Week on Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States organised by Tanya Golash-Boza.

Hermano Lejano monument (Photo: Francisco Guzman)
During El Salvador’s 12-year civil war (1980-1992), approximately 25 percent of its population emigrated, many fleeing for their lives. The government erected the monument, Hermano Lejano (Faraway Brother), to honor Salvadorans living abroad. When traveling along the Comalapa Highway from the airport to San Salvador, drivers are greeted by the words, ‘Hermano, Bienvenido a Casa’ (‘Brother, Welcome Home’). Fernando Llort recently added to the renovated monument a separate ceramic-tile sculpture of a woman with outstretched arms, called Abrazo Fraterno (Fraternal Embrace). According to Llort, the masterpiece offers ‘a welcome with love’ to returning nationals.
Unfortunately, not all returnees experience a warm welcome in El Salvador. In 2008, La Prensa Grafica and Univisión recorded two segments that vividly contrast the voluntary return of remittance-sending hermanos lejanos and forced return of dream-crushed deportees. In the first, friends and family wait excitedly as smiling loved ones with large suitcases arrive for the holidays. In the second, deportees exit a plane at the airport’s military base with heads down. Some wear uniforms provided by detention centers. The handcuffs worn during their flight are removed, but most have not yet re-laced their shoes. They appear shameful and unprepared.
Deportees from the U.S. exit a chartered airplane (Photo: El Diario de Hoy)
Since 2007, the US has deported over 160,000 persons to El Salvador (less than a third of whom committed a crime), sending a chartered flight with between 50 and 145 persons six times per week. Mexico has significantly increased the number of Salvadorans it removes by both air and bus. In 2014, Mexico deported 22,317 Salvadorans by land, up from 14,260 in 2013. Among children, the increase was most dramatic, from 1,521 in 2013 to 4,100 in 2014.
Deportees returning by air are greeted at the airport by Bienvenido a Casa (Welcome Home), a program once funded by the US and now managed by the Salvadoran government. They are crammed into a small room, where they receive two pupusas and a beverage. They hear about the risks of remigration and services available to them through the Centro de Asistencia a Repatriados (CAR). They also complete interviews with the Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME), the Policía Nacional Civil, and the Ministry of Health. Tattooed persons are photographed. Minors are provided shelter and reunification services. Prior to departure, all can make a free phone call and receive bus fare from DGME, if available.
Comalapa Highway is the only road connected to the airport (Photo: Diana Escalante)
Many deportees don’t have anyone waiting for them at the airport. Since shelters for adult deportees do not exist, many head for bus terminals, which are sites of assault, extortion, murder, and shootouts. Persons claiming to be taxi drivers offer alternatives to buses. They provide cellphones in exchange for payment upon arrival. In 2012, several deportees who accepted these arrangements were extorted. Assault, robbery, and murder are also common on the Comalapa Highway. This is particularly common through a five-kilometer stretch around Olocuilta, La Paz. Because this is the only road with access to the airport, arrivals are often monitored. Deportees from the US have been murdered within hours.
Bienvenido a Casa program at bus return center (Photo: Elizabeth Kennedy)
Persons arriving from Mexico by bus are greeted by Bienvenidos a Casa at a return center in Comunidad Quiñonez, San Salvador (where CAR is located). They are crowded into a room for their orientation and interviews. Police at the bus center don’t have cameras, so they write descriptions of tattoos instead. Since July 2014, children wait in a special area designed by NGOs Save the Children and Glasswings. After an interview with DGME, children and their relatives are interviewed by separate officials of the Consejo Nacional de la Niñez y la Adolescencia (CONNA). Like airport arrivals, they are offered reunification services and shelter.
The return center for bus arrivals is located near the violent area known as ‘La Chacra.’ Like the airport, it has one road in and out. Over nine months of data collection in 2014, two murders occurred in the area. Members of Barrio 18 often wait near the bottom of the street, and the neighborhood is one of ten where taxi drivers prefer not to go. It’s become a site where the Sureño and Revolucionario factions of Barrio 18 in El Salvador battle. Deportees’ lives are thus at risk as they leave the center for home.
Few services exist to facilitate re/integration of deportees beyond Bienvenido a Casa. CAR occasionally offers job training, educational assistance, legal aid, tattoo removal, and health services. Dedicated DGME officials lay job announcements and flyers on the table. A few nonprofits provide deportees micro-loans and help form cooperatives. The Instituto Salvadoreño del Migrante (INSAMI), working alongside a board composed of former deportees, piloted a labor program in December 2014. Unfortunately, funding is often not available for these programs and most deportees are unaware of, or don’t qualify for, their services.
Homes near the bus return center (Photo: David Mendez)
The onus for re/integration mostly falls to deportees. Some return to loving families, jobs, and communities. Most experience stigma, discrimination, and unsustainable economic conditions. Those with tattoos are often targeted for surveillance, criminalization, and violence from gangs and police. Deportees also struggle with forced separation from their family members left behind in host countries after removal. Thus, far from feeling warmly welcomed back to into the safe arms of a maternal país (nation), post-deportation life is marked by suffering, uncertainty, instability, and risk. As such, most Salvadoran deportees dream of—and many attempt—remigration to Mexico and the US.
Themed Week on Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States:

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Dingeman-Cerda, K. and Kennedy E.G. (2015) Welcome Home? Deportation to El Salvador. Available at: (Accessed [date]).