A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece in the Huffington Post quoting Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson saying that it’s okay to deport kids to Honduras because it’s “a beautiful country.” Reading this ridiculous comment, I felt I had to share my knowledge of what is driving children to flee their homes.
The reality is Tegucigalpa, Honduras, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Plagued by poverty, infested with deported violent criminals and gang members, its corrupt government fails to protect its citizens. I saw firsthand the plight of many in Honduras when I traveled to the Bay Islands on two separate occasions as an avid scuba diver a few years ago.
I traveled first to San Pedro Sula and decided to take a walk in the nearby plaza. On my way out of the hotel, the receptionist advised me to stay in, especially at night, since they recently had many episodes of theft, assaults, and other unmentionable crimes against both locals and tourists. I took her advice.
The next day, I decided to take a brief walk before my flight to Roatan. I walked around a bit of the area near the hotel and noticed I was the only one out and about. When I returned to the hotel, I asked why the streets were deserted and was told that the inhabitants were scared and stayed indoors as much as possible due to the gang violence that happened on a daily basis to people from all walks of life.
I boarded my plane and in a few hours arrived in paradise. The crystal clear waters of Roatan were breathtaking. The island was a tourist magnet and the locals on the island worked in the hospitality industry. I asked them how easy it was to get their jobs and was told some had waited years on a wait list; others worked their way up from meager wage positions to housekeeping or restaurant personnel jobs. Many of them left their family behind in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula and went months before being able to see their children.
It was tragic to hear and see the suffering of many of the workers; they were worried sick about the young children left behind, but felt they had no other choice. It was common for workers to receive news from home informing them that one of their children had been abducted by a gang. Even on an idyllic island, the danger was still weighing on them and affecting them every single day.
I later traveled to Guanaja, another “beautiful” place in Honduras where workers commuted to the small island to work. The peaceful tranquility that surrounded me was shattered by the story of a woman working in the hotel who lost a daughter to gang violence. Her daughter dated a young man who later was forced to join the Mara gang. The mere association to the newly inducted gang member made her a target. Three weeks later the girl was found murdered; she had been raped and killed by the gang leader. So much sadness and despair for those that struggle daily to survive the deadly streets of “beautiful” Honduras.
Senator Johnson’s blithe refusal to acknowledge the day to day reality of Hondurans is reprehensible. His solution – forcing children back to danger – is inhumane and senseless, and stands against our long, proud history of helping those fleeing persecution.
Written by Alma Rosa Nieto, Member, AILA Media Advocacy Committee