Being deported to an El Salvador he hadn't seen in more than three decades was a trauma Hugo Castro recalls clearly.
The 51-year-old said Monday that his country must begin preparing now to receive the nearly 200,000 Salvadorans who may have to return following the Trump administration's decision to lift their temporary protected status next year.
"The main problem for deportees is that they're made invisible. They're rejected, there's no work. They don't help us," said Castro, who was deported from the U.S. in 2015.
The U.S. announcement brought fears that a major source of income for this poor Central American nation will be cut off and that families could be separated. But there was also a hint of optimism that Salvadorans with many years of experience in the U.S. could bring expertise and investment to spur the economy.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Salvadorans who have stayed in the U.S. with temporary protected status — only a fraction of the estimated 2 million Salvadorans living there — would have to leave by Sept. 9, 2019, unless Congress came up with a solution allowing them to stay.
The temporary protected status program has been offered to citizens from a number of countries fleeing natural disasters or other instability. The affected Salvadorans received the status after earthquakes in 2001 killed more than 1,000 people. Thousands more who arrived in the United States in recent years fleeing gang violence were not eligible.
The biggest worry among many Salvadorans is that their nation of 6.2 million people will see a big drop in the amount of cash sent home by countrymen working in the United States. Salvadorans transferred more than $4.5 billion from the U.S. in 2016, accounting for 17 percent of El Salvador's economy, according to government figures.