Mayor of Washington D.C. joins El Salvador town to celebrate migration milestone

INTIPUCA, El Salvador (Reuters) – Far from U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration, the people of a small coastal town in El Salvador on Tuesday celebrated half a century of their links to Washington D.C. – joined by the capital’s mayor.

Washington D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser and Intipuca Mayor Jose Leonzo participate in a ceremony during her visit to Intipuca, El Salvador, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

Sigfredo Chavez and Elba Salinas, along with their two sons, were the first migrants from Intipuca to make the long journey to the United States in 1967, ending up in Washington D.C. and paving the way for thousands of people from their town who would follow, local officials said.

Tuesday’s celebration took place in the town’s central plaza where a statue of a migrant, with a bag on his shoulder, stands in a fountain.

Sisters Isilda and Emily Hernandez pose for a photograph at Emily’s house in Intipuca, El Salvador, August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

The plaza was decorated with colorful banners. Children waved the red and white flags of Washington D.C. and cheered the first visit by a mayor of the U.S. capital, Muriel Bowser.

“We will work every day to ensure that Salvadorans in Washington continue to work, continue raising their children, continue to contribute to the economy, continue sending remittances to their loved ones, traveling safely and improve their lives,” Bowser said, according to a translation of a Spanish version of her comments.

Boswer did not directly address Trump’s immigration policies.

Some 5,000 Salvadorans from Intipuca now live in the Washington area, according to the mayor’s office, while 7,000 inhabitants back in the coastal town take care of U.S.-style homes built with dollars sent back by migrants.

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The town, located 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of San Salvador, is popularly known as Intipuca City because of its strong link to life in the United States.

Emily Hernandez, 50, went north in 1992 to join her brothers, crossing illegally into the United States, and came back to visit for the celebration.

Now a U.S. citizen, Hernandez has five children and owns two restaurants in Maryland, where she employs 40 people, mostly immigrants from Intipuca, she said. She travels home for local holidays, but lives mostly in the United States.

“Adapting to life there was not easy,” she said. “But it is a country of opportunities, and if you don’t make it, it is because you don’t want to.”

The future of some 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants allowed to live and work in the United States since 2001 is up in the air after the Trump administration declared in January it would revoke their temporary protected status (TPS) in 2019.

Writing by Michael Boyle; Editing by Darren Schuettler