The ‘American dream’ turns into an unforgettable nightmare for migrants in Honduras
For many Latin Americans, the “American dream” refers to making the risky trip north to a new, safe and hopefully prosperous life in the United States.
For Olga Lopez, a 36-year-old Honduran, the dream became an unforgettable nightmare when she saw her 10-year-old daughter Jennifer drown in the waves off Mexico.
She told AFP about how they both were among a boatload of eight undocumented migrants — four adults and four children — churning away from the Pacific coast of Chiapas, a southern Mexican state, on July 20.
It was six in the morning.
Shortly after getting underway, a big wave knocked the boat over before anyone had time to react.
When Lopez surfaced, she saw Jennifer holding onto a buoyant backpack.
“‘Don’t let go!’ I yelled. “‘Yes, Mommy,’ she answered, laughing, all happy, not at all affected,” Lopez recounted.
“But then another wave came, and after that I didn’t see her again.”
Jennifer was one of three children who perished from that boat.
Late last week, their remains were repatriated to their home countries.
Jennifer’s body was returned to the village of San Carlos in northwestern Honduras.
The body of Carlos Aguilar, aged seven, was delivered to a village an hour to the south, San Manuel Cortes, for burial there.
And in neighboring El Salvador, the body of five-year-old Erick Adrian Robles was received by his family in the town of Sonsonate.
– Relying on people-smugglers –
They were among the scores of Central Americans who have died this year along the often dangerous trail to the United States.
In 2016 so far, 106 Hondurans have lost their lives trying to make their “American dream” happen. For all of last year, the figure was 200.
“I wanted to see if I could do something” to improve her lot by migrating to the US, Lopez said, explaining that she was counting on the support of two brothers already living there.
Thousands of Latin Americans — and migrants from as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan — attempt the perilous journey through Central America, into Mexico and across the US border.
According to the government Committee for Returned Migrants in Honduras, between 60,000 and 100,000 Hondurans leave the country every year because of dire unemployment and violence. Many try for America, while others aim for nearby countries.
People-smugglers — known as “coyotes” — promise to get many of them past borders and other obstacles, for a price.
One coyote, a young man about 18 years old, was seen meeting a group of 12 Honduran emigrants getting off a bus on the border with Guatemala.
A soldier posted there told AFP that there were no grounds to stop the migrants crossing over if they had valid identity papers, as there was freedom of movement between the two countries.
That may not have been the case for the group led by the people-smuggler, who guided them along a dirt path through barbed wire to a field that was half in Honduras and half in Guatemala.
After walking a kilometer (half a mile), they came out near a corral where a couple of Guatemalans were loading cattle onto trucks.
Some in the group immediately headed to public transport, while others got on motorbikes driven by other people-smugglers.
The coyote who led them there said these crossings “bothered the police.”
But the police seemed resigned to the constant flow through blind spots along the border.
“It’s like this every day and we can’t do anything about it,” one officer said.
– Unaccompanied children –
Child migration is a big part of the human flow toward the United States. The minors often travel with no adult companion, and bank upon meeting up with relatives already in America.
In July 2014, the US was confronted with a spike in Central American children crossing its border, calling the influx of 60,000 minors a “humanitarian crisis.”
Since then, numbers have dropped as Mexico has stepped up border monitoring and deportations.
A total of 8,467 children have been returned to Honduras so far this year. Most of them were intercepted by Mexican authorities.
Honduras’s deputy foreign minister Andrea Matamoros this week told a conference on migration that the flow of unaccompanied minors going to the US had declined seven percent this year compared with 2015.
But the number “still remained very high,” she said.
The United States has more than a million Hondurans living within its borders — an impressive figure given that Honduras’s population is eight million.
Remittances from that community to relatives in Honduras amount to some $4 billion a year, accounting for more than 20 percent of the Central American country’s gross domestic product.