“Often overlooked in the current immigration debate are the complex circumstances and systemic issues that lead many to leave Honduras and seek refuge in the United States,” says the Washington-based National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group that recently sponsored a forum to look at why so many Hondurans have made the decision to pay and leave everything behind in a quest to get to the United States.
The so-called “migrant caravans” traveling to the U.S. border comprised of Central Americans and Mexican nationals have largely originated in Honduras.
Honduras has experienced one of the world’s largest crime and homicide rates, and there are currently demonstrations on the streets demanding that President Juan Orlando Hernández resign.
After a devastating hurricane in 1998, Hondurans were granted Temporary Protected Status by the United States. It granted certain Honduran nationals the right to live and work legally in the U.S., but President Trump has since indicated his plans to end the program. While that decision is tied up in courts, the uncertainty of what will ultimately happen with TPS and the current volatile situation in Honduras has significantly increased the number of Hondurans trying to enter the U.S.
The Washington forum included participants from the Asociación Para Una Sociedad Justa (Association For A More Just Society), a group based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa that works with community and local governmental organizations to improve the standard of living, which has been an uphill battle due to the lack of economic opportunities, ASJ says.
“You are stigmatized by the place you were born. So, if you live in a community that’s really poor a bank (for instance) is not going to hire you; even though you studied accounting, you have to see where you can move to be hired,” said ASJ Director of Programs Maribel Muñoz.
“We have been trying as an organization to create a more just society and that happens by creating better conditions for people to stay in the country who want to live there. Two-thirds of our population lives in poverty and so that requires strong public institutions,” adds ASJ Director of Governance Keila García.
Garcia explains that part of the group’s strategy to improve living and working conditions in Honduras so that more people stay is to get the community involved in what they call social auditing, in which residents help verify the level of compliance of local organizations and how they adhere to laws and best practices.
ASJ has done this type of audit in nine institutions in Honduras, including the ministries of Education, Health, and Security, among others. It has seen compliance with the law and best practices increase to more than 60 percent on average.
However, organizations such as ASJ are facing a larger issue at this moment. The Trump administration is proposing to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to several Central American countries, including Honduras, funds that ASJ and others rely on to do their work.
“All the money that we have gotten from the U.S government will end in December. We have a 150-people staff, and if we don’t find replacement funding for those people, probably two-thirds of those people will leave” said ASJ President Kurt Ver Beek.
Since announcing the cuts this spring, the White House has said it would restore some funding but will also look at how Honduras and other countries in the region are handling migrant flows to the U.S. before releasing funds allocated to the region.
Of the estimated 800,000 Hondurans living in the United States, a majority lives in Florida. Of those, most live in Miami-Dade County.
According to the Central Bank of Honduras (BCH in Spanish), the amount of money sent from Hondurans in the United States to their families in Honduras – commonly known as remittances – has consistently increased over the years. Honduras is among the top 10 countries receiving remittances from abroad and those monies represent nearly 20 percent of its Gross Domestic Product – more than one of its most well-known exports, coffee.
Osman López-Barraza is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.