Inside El Salvador’s battle with violence, poverty, and U.S. policy

As migrants flee the decimated Central American nation, changes in the United States could send thousands back into the chaos.

Onlookers gather at the scene of a homicide in downtown San Salvador, El Salvador’s capital. Violence has driven hundreds of Salvadorans to leave each day for the United States, where they make up the fourth largest Latino community, after Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans.

The deportees from the United States file out of the buses with their heads down, stripped of belts and shoelaces like criminals.

Rounded up from immigration detention centers around the country, they’d been boarded onto an unmarked jet near the Texas-Mexico border early in the morning and flown more than 1,100 miles to an airport outside El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. In just four hours a perilous journey north that had taken many of the migrants years to prepare for and weeks to complete was undone.

“Welcome,” a Salvadoran migration officer greets them in a new reception center built with help from the U.S. government. “You are family here.” A hundred and nineteen blank faces stare back. One by one, names are called out, and the men and women come forward to receive their belongings, undergo health screenings, and collect bus fare to get them home.

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