Lesson Plans

Deportation and the Cycle of Violence in El Salvador

An English language school in San Salvador, called EnglishCool. Its founder, Eddie Anzora, prepares students for work in the call centers. Image by Jonathan Blitzer. El Salvador, 2016.

An English language school in San Salvador, called EnglishCool. Its founder, Eddie Anzora, prepares students for work in the call centers. Image by Jonathan Blitzer. El Salvador, 2016.


Students will be able to:

  • cite textual evidence in order to identify causes of violence in El Salvador and the U.S.
  • make logical inferences about people’s stances on deportation based on textual evidence in order to write a reflection from someone else’s perspective


1. Individually or in pairs, define the word citizen.

2. Read the following definitions of the word from the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • An inhabitant of a city or town; esp. one possessing civic rights and privileges
  • A legally recognized subject or national of a state, commonwealth, or other polity, either native or naturalized, having certain rights, privileges, or duties

3. With a partner, create a list of all the things you feel make you Americans. Note down all ideas; you do not have to agree.

4. Post your list on one wall of the classroom, and examine your classmates’ lists.

5. Discuss as a class:

  • Of everything listed by your class, what do you think is the most important factor? Why?
  • Do you disagree with any of the ideas your classmates listed? If so, why?

6. National identity is a matter of internal recognition, wherein certain values, characteristics, and affinities lead you to claim an identity for yourself. It is also a matter of external recognition, wherein a government affords you certain legal rights and responsibilities based on the identity they ascribe to you. Discuss:

  • Can you be an American without being a citizen?
  • Almost every American’s family can be traced back to another country from which they migrated. How would you feel if you were forced to return to one of the countries of your family’s national origin today? What difficulties do you think would arise for you?

Introducing the Lesson:

Today, we are going to study a story by Jonathan Blitzer that examines Salvadoran gang violence in the U.S. and El Salvador. We will look at the origins and contemporary manifestations of these gangs and interrogate deportation’s role in the cycle of violence.

Discussion and Activities:

1. In a small group, create a flowchart of causes and consequences of violence in El Salvador since 1981. Color code your flowchart to indicate:

  • Cause of violence rooted in El Salvador
  • Cause of violence rooted in the United States
  • Cause violence rooted in both countries

Be prepared to cite textual evidence to support your color coding choices.

2. Discuss:

  • What factors should the U.S. government consider when choosing whether to intervene in another country’s civil war?
  • If the U.S. does choose to intervene in another country’s civil war, what are its responsibilities to civilians of that country? Do they differ from its responsibilities to civilians of other countries at war?
  • Blitzer quotes journalist Óscar Martínez, who writes, “What the U.S. has tried to flush away has rather multiplied.” What does he mean?
  • Blitzer writes that deportees are stigmatized in El Salvador. Why? What is the impact of that stigma?
  • What is the effect of Blitzer’s decision to structure this story around the central character of Anzora?

3. In your small group, select from and rearrange the quotes from Blitzer’s story to tell a story about violence and migration. You can form a monologue, a dialogue, or a multivocal piece. Practice reading your piece aloud. (You can have one performer, the entire group, or any arrangement in between.) Be deliberate about your inflection and, if using multiple performers, the attribution of lines. When you are finished, you will perform your piece in front of the class and turn in your written arrangement. Following the class performances, discuss:

  • How can you compare and contrast the stories your group and your classmates’ groups told?
  • What is the effect of removing the interview subjects’ words from the surrounding story?


What does deportation mean to you? Write a one-page response to this questions from one of the following perspectives:

  • Anzora
  • Anzora’s girlfriend in the U.S.
  • A U.S. lawyer
  • Tomás
  • A gang member in El Salvador
  • A Salvadoran police officer
  • Lidia Carias

First, state whether deportation has an overall positive or negative impact. Cite evidence from the text to support your statement. Then, use your creativity to write a reflection in the first person.

Extension Activities:

Option 1. El Salvador is consistently ranked as one of the most violent countries in the world. Using Blitzer’s story and your own independent research, expand on the flowchart you created in class, creating a poster that tracks the causes and consequences of violence in El Salvador, going back further than the 1980s. Color code your chart according to the actors responsible (you need not limit yourself to two).

Option 2. Gangs like MS-13 continue to produce violence in the U.S. as well as in El Salvador. The Obama administration deported 152,000 Salvadorans, and Donald Trump has repeatedly called MS-13 out by name as a justification for strict deportation policies. However, some warn that such deportations are only fueling the cycle of violence.

Write a policy brief addressing the challenge of violence perpetrated by Salvadoran gangs in the United States. Your brief should include the following:

  • Statement of the problem: What is the issue, and why should people care?
  • Context for the problem: What root causes can you identify?
  • Policy recommendations: What can be done to reduce violence perpetrated by Salvadoran gangs in the U.S.?
  • Sources: Be sure to list any sources you consult for any/all sections of your policy brief.

You should cite evidence from Blitzer’s article as well as additional sources from your own research. When writing your brief, consider all communities implicated in and affected by the violence. Consider how you can write recommendations that:

  • address the roots of the problem and not just the most obvious challenges
  • provide a long-term solution rather than a stop-gap measure
  • propose action steps that are both just and humane

As a next step, present your policy brief to your class. Discuss the similarities and differences you find among your classmates’ policy recommendations. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the different policy options presented as a class.

Educator Notes: 


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

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