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While Poverty & Gangs Push, Opportunity Draws Honduran Children To The U.S.

David Martin Davies
TPR News

President Obama is requesting that Congress authorize $2 billion and special powers to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

In record numbers the children are coming from Central America, crossing the Rio Grande and overwhelming the U.S. system after being apprehended at the Texas border. Most are coming from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, but Honduras is the leading source country.

At the center of Tegucigalpa is the Plaza Morazán, often called Parque Central. This is Tegucicalpa's physiological hub. It features the grand statue of former president Francisco Morazán on horseback and an elaborate baroque-style cathedral overlooking the square.

It’s comparable to Mexico City’s Zocolo but much smaller, which is appropriate. Honduras is a small nation -- about the size of Kentucky -- with a population of 8 million people. And it’s a poor country -- the second poorest in the hemisphere after Haiti.

On one side of the plaza there’s a new outdoor stage – on this afternoon it’s being used by a religious group delivering a fire-and-brimstone speech to the children of Honduras: look to the church and stay away from trouble.

Credit David Martin Davies / TPR News
TPR News
Outdoor theatre in Parque Central in Tegucigalpa.

More and more children of Honduras aren’t looking to the church for their future but to the United States, where they are likely to find trouble.

So far in 2014 over 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran children have been apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol -- twice the number in all of 2013 and more than four times that of 2012.

Darwin Mardeana has survived that trip to El Norte. He said Hondurans head north to find an better life.

“You want to try to have more easy to live. You can eat. You can have water. You can have a house. It’s awesome,” he said.

With the help of a human smuggler from Mexico – a coyote – he crossed the Texas Mexico border at Del Rio.

“One guy, he said: 'Don’t stop. You run, run, run. Don’t stop through there.' And I don’t stop when I passed the Rio Grande," Mardeana said.

Darwin then paid someone $500 to take him to Houston where he found work. But he says he wanted to return home and six months after his journey Darwin bought a bus ticket back to Honduras. 

Today he works with a faith-based charity called Breaking Chains Honduras trying to improve the lives of others in Tegucigalpa. But his efforts won’t be enough to prevent other Honduran youth from making that long trip to the United States.

Credit David Martin Davies / TPR News
TPR News
Rooftop view of Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras.

Julio Melendez,a television reporter for Canal 11 in Tegucigalpa, is known for his coverage of the streets. He agrees that there are many push factors in Honduras driving this immigration surge: the top one being the poverty.

“We have very poor people living in Honduras," Melendez said. "Many of the families living in the colonia live [on] one dollar a day."

Melendez says the other major push factor is the gang violence, which is related to immigration. He says so many men left their families in Honduras to work in the United States that it tore the nation’s social fabric.

Credit David Martin Davies / TPR News
TPR News
In the Parque Central of Tegucigalpa, the statue of Francisco Morazan, former president of Honduras and the Republic of Central America.

“And this is the big problem because here the boys grow up without father and without institutional support," Melendez says. "We have here boys without fathers and they go into the gangs."

And Melendez says while there are strong push factors in Honduras there are also strong pull factors from the United States – a strong economy and the glossy American culture – like the name brand fast food and Hollywood entertainment. But he rejects the assumption by some in the United States that the DREAM Act or changes in the enforcement of U.S. immigration policy are a pull factors.

Meneldez says the people heading north don’t know and aren’t concerned with U.S. immigration policy. And, the reporter says, deportations won’t solve the issue for the U.S. Those heading north will just try again.

Now, facing mounting pressure from the United States, the Honduran government is working on trying to convince people that going to the U.S. is not a good idea.

They are airing television public service announcements warning parents of the dangers of hiring a Mexican coyote, and reminding viewers that the children are the future of Honduras.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi