An American reader writes from Honduras:
I’ve lived and worked in Honduras for 10 years both as a missionary, serving the very poorest of society and now as teacher, where I give philosophy and history classes to the children of the very wealthiest. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Honduran society and I certainly cannot claim to have many answers with respect to issues of immigration. The whole topic strikes me as far more complex and nuanced than what many voices on either the Right or the Left make it out to be. Nevertheless, I know the milieu in which I live, I know why many poor Hondurans choose to emigrate illegally, I know why many wealthy Hondurans fly to Miami or Atlanta to give birth to their children and I know that all else remaining constant, this current caravan is only the beginning.
A poor Honduran lives his life with little to no hope of ever achieving anything approaching financial stability. The people I know make their livings off of garbage collecting, selling unripened bananas and day-laboring at construction sites. I’m particularly close with a group of young men and older boys that live in and around the municipal garbage dump of La Ceiba. In many respects they are some of the happiest, most worldly-wise, most realistic people that I have ever met. Not much upsets them, they laugh often and give fully of themselves to whoever asks. They also have absolutely no hope of a better future. They work hard, incredibly hard; rising before dawn to load up on either the banana or garbage trucks and not finishing work until late in the evening. For their efforts they manage to bring home about $5 a day with which they are expected to either help support their parent(s) or the family that they’ve started. Some in the garbage dump community also manage to study in the local public high school on the weekends. Their hope is that if they can manage to graduate high school, perhaps even college, that they will be more attractive to local businesses and thereby land jobs as sales clerks, cashiers or bank tellers. I haven’t the heart to tell them that all of their effort will likely be for naught as businesses simply don’t have the available positions to fill and that even if they did, business owners would never consider a public high school education worth anything compared to one from a private high school. The economy here is anemic, the currency is prone to inflation and the ability to open and maintain a small to medium-sized business is notoriously difficult both because of the endless and contradictory bureaucratic paperwork and because gangs often extort local proprietors until they have to shutter their operations. Government for its part is utterly corrupt; it actively steals from any and all available funds, including and most recently the Social Security fund. It refuses to maintain a proper infrastructure, protect its citizens from gangs and narco-traffickers, provide a decent public education or healthcare system and it has now begun to blatantly steal elections. This then is what drives the poor of Honduras to leave their country, their homes and their families. Sure there are many fleeing direct threats of violence; I’ve known a few. Most though leave because they simply have no future here, no hope of achieving what they see on the television, no hope of offering a better life to their children. Those of my friends that I’ve watched leave have never been eager to go, they were heart-broken at the prospect of leaving the friends and families behind and they always insisted that they’d return; they simply saw no other way of improving their lot in life. They recognized that Honduras as it is, as it is structured, keeps them permanently poor.
I am not sure what the solution is. Nothing the United States does at the border will change Honduran society or diminish the impetus to emigrate. Life for 4.8 million Hondurans will still be a never-ending hamster-wheel of poverty. The government will still defraud its citizens at every turn. Gangs will still operate with impunity. Hondurans will still find ways to enter the U.S. illegally. If the United States wants to to truly solve the immigration crisis, and a caravan/invading horde of 7,000 people is a crisis, it needs to make some difficult decisions that affect those that are in power here. It can begin by cutting off aid, every penny to this country. The U.S. gave $67.8 million in military and development aid to Honduras in 2018. In 2017 it was over 100 million. That money is not reaching its intended destinations; its being siphoned off to corrupt government officials at every level before ever reaching a worthy development project. The U.S. should revoke travel visas of known corrupt officials. Recently there have been a few prominent politicians to lose their U.S. entry visas, there should be many more, beginning with the President. Lastly, immigration law should change to make it more difficult for the wealthy of Honduras to fly to the U.S. to have their children and thereby procure for them birthright citizenship. Many of my students are U.S. citizens and haven’t the faintest inkling of what that means for them in terms of rights and attendant responsibilities. Such practices make a mockery of citizenship as a concept and make legal for the wealthy i.e. anchor-babies, the very thing that the poor are demonized for attempting to do.
These solutions, if you an call them that, may seem naive and short-sighted. I know that it would not solve the structural problems here as such. I know too though that unless those that are in power have real and sustained pressure put on them, unless their access to unlimited funds is finally cut off, unless they are forced to truly reckon with what they’ve wrought in this country; Honduras will continue to produce thousands of emigres every year and the U.S. will continue to fight this battle by proxy at the southern border.