Perspective on the Central American Migrant Caravans

I am a US citizen married to a Honduran, and since we said our vows five years ago we have parented 11 orphaned and abandoned children and teens in this third world country in response to God’s call on our lives. Seven still live with us and call us Mom and Dad.

We intentionally live without air-conditioning, television, high-speed internet, a washing machine or dish-washer. We inhabit an 800 square foot cinderblock home on the outskirts of our rural neighbourhood. I speak fluent Spanish and live alongside Hondurans every day in the workplace, in the local community and in the most intimate corners of my own home. Although I will never be able to change the color of my skin or re-write my cultural history, I do know and love the Honduran people and have lived in this culture during my entire adult life.

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I am not involved in politics but would like to present to you our perspective on the current migrant caravan crisis based on our daily life and experiences on the northern coast of Honduras. Many of us who are here (on the other end of the equation) are deeply troubled as the caravan’s mindset affects many who are in our area.

I work alongside of highly educated, well-informed Hondurans everyday in the context of our mission school for local at-risk teens, and I hear and agree with their diverse opinions on the various challenges Honduras faces. We understand the migrant caravan to be a desperate cry for help as many Hondurans seek political change and increased security for this country (which it desperately needs), but it is simply untrue to believe that the answer for a safer, more prosperous Honduras is that thousands should leave illegally.

My husband and two of our teen foster daughters were driving home around dinnertime several days ago and found the intersection of our rural neighborhood filled with close to 200 people all frantically trying to form another caravan to follow after the first. There were people screaming and trying to get more people to abandon their homes as they would gamble everything for their slice of the American Dream. My husband and teen daughters were devastated, as we know too well that many marriages are broken, children abandoned, lies believed and laws broken when the people choose this route.

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We understand that some in the caravans are indeed refugees seeking legitimate asylum, but there are many others that are simply choosing the easier route of escape. It is not impossible to forge a humble living in Honduras (over 9 million Hondurans survive in this culture every day) while it is true that many Hondurans work the same professional jobs as Americans and earn about a tenth of what an American earns. That was my experience as a college graduate in the first job I had in Honduras as a bilingual elementary-school teacher. I worked over 40 hours per week and earned the equivalent of $330 per month. Many Hondurans (along with the poor around the globe) live off a similar salary (or less), and that kind of budget requires almost all common luxuries to be forsaken but one can indeed scratch out an honest — and even joyful — living. (Is there room in the United States for every Honduran or third world citizen to migrate?)

Just a few weeks ago a single father who had his three children in our school suddenly decided to withdraw them from our program and joined the caravan in hopes of a better future. He was under no death threat nor were the local gangs driving him out. His children were in our school free of charge and a well-renowned local pastor had been supporting him personally. Is it justified that he flee the country?

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Understanding life in Honduras from another angle, it is true that much corruption, lack of opportunities and violence abound. There are very heavy “war taxes” that gangs occasionally place on local businesses, making it very difficult for some to earn an honest living. If you don’t pay the demanded rate each month, your life may be taken. This is a stark reality that some Hondurans face on a daily basis, but by no means all (or even most). Many people live in this nation their entire lives without coming up against gang-related violence while there are others who are, in fact, deeply scarred by this reality.

In regards to unpunished violence, my husband’s brother was shot dead point-blank two years ago and no police action was taken even after filing several reports with eye-witnesses, and three years ago my husband was kidnapped and brutally beaten by local gang lords only to confront similar apathy from the authorities once he escaped. When cattle thieves stole and killed our two milking cows last year, I walked down the gravel road to the local police station only for the policeman to shrug and tell me that that type of tragic event is to be expected. No action was taken to investigate or punish the crime.

These are a few of the instances we’ve suffered personally, and it is important to note, however, that although we have been the victims of several acts of random violence, on the whole we do not feel constantly threatened or fearful (although cautious, yes) in this country.

Many Hondurans could tell similar stories of the devastating lack of law and order on Honduran soil. (This accounts for a great part of the nation’s general chaos.) Lawlessness leads to the careless formation of citizens who have very little respect for laws and for one another. They, in turn, wreak havoc on the country’s law-abiding citizens who are powerless to stop them. The caravan is simply the internationally-visible result of the chaos that occurs on Honduran soil daily.

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In our small mission school we have offered high-quality free education and character formation to over 100 at-risk Honduran youth in the past five years, as our desire is to offer opportunities – educational, employment and in Christian discipleship – right here in Honduras. We strive to teach this generation how to live a dignified lifestyle and make productive choices here.

Our ministry is not unique, but rather there are many similar missions and non-profits around the country that are diligently picking up the pieces of a broken nation and seeking to empower the people with God’s love.

While some youth in our school have taken full advantage of the formation offered them and are making highly productive choices, more than half have walked out because they admittedly had no interest in studying or preparing for the future. This type of apathetic attitude is common among youth in our area and does nothing to help the nation prosper.

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There are many opposing views on the immigration crisis, but we respectfully stand firm in our belief that laws and protocols should be respected and if anyone (from any country) would desire to enter a foreign land it should be done so with the appropriate paperwork, under specific circumstances and with a collaborative attitude. Allowing the contrary will only more deeply instil lawlessness in Honduran culture.

Let us consider this perspective amidst much political confusion and potential anger between opposing parties: Honduras is in desperate need of reform and an effective system of law and order as it is overwhelmingly true that injustice and violence reign, but that does not mean that the solution is for Hondurans to flee the country illegally. If the United States accepts the immigrants in the caravan, there are still over 9 million Hondurans living in what those who have fled claim to be unbearable circumstances on Honduran soil. What good can be brought about by extending help to a very small percentage who present themselves as refugees unless wide-scale change will be brought about by and for the masses who have stayed behind?

From Jennifer, with joy

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