Thoughts on the Honduran Immigration Crisis

Photo by Peter Haden / by CC

Not dozens, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of Hondurans are expected to emigrate from Honduras to the US in 2014 alone, shattering previous immigration records. Tens of thousands of husbands, mothers, sons, and daughters will leave family and home behind to seek opportunity, safety, and freedom from fear. Some come purely on selfish terms, seekers of fame and fortune that the Fat North has to provide. Others will arrive scarred from near-misses -- carrying jagged white lines on arms, legs, and faces, their eyes and hearts unable to maintain contact. Children seeking parents. The elderly craving rest. Gangsters fleeing a rapidly falling hatchet. Battered girls chasing promises of love and safety like so many vanishing butterflies. Young men hunting the Almighty Unicorn- the American Dream - find only a nightmare.

This past week, Juan Orlando Hernandez, President of Honduras, spoke boldly on this issue in an interview with TIME. When asked why there has been such a sudden increase in emigration from his country, he replied with three reasons.
  1. Lack of opportunity within Honduras.
  2. Extreme violence caused by drug-trafficking cartels and the gangs that work alongside them.
  3. Unclear policies over the past few months/years on how the US will deal with undocumented immigrants.  
Central Americans have historically lacked employment opportunities at home, which has created a predictable trickle of immigrants to the US seeking a better life over the past half century. What has changed is the dramatic increase in violence over the past decade, exacerbated by increased drug trafficking and governmental corruption. Now immigrants not only are seeking opportunities, but fleeing from the most violent countries in the world when shootouts become a daily occurrence in their barrios. Many no longer see themselves as simple opportunity-hunters. When they honestly look in the mirror, they see asylum-seekers -- refugees.

Inspired by recent waffling in US immigration policy, resourceful coyotes (human-traffickers) prey on the uneducated and poor of Central America by feeding them lies about how the US will allow children or families to stay once inside its borders. Having read in the local newspapers about how US immigration policy is/was/might be/probably/will be changing, many families sell what few possessions they have to try and get their child or family across the border either unaided or with a coyote. When they are captured and returned, they literally come back to nothing and find themselves in an even more desperate situation than before. Many parents spend their every Lempira to send their child with a coyote, then take off on foot themselves to try to reach them in the US unaided. When the child is captured by authorities, he is returned to a city where his parents are either broke or long gone.

And the cycle repeats. Why?
For once the Media is correct to apply the label 'crisis' to a situation. I just hope we're not so familiar with the term that we now ignore it. The Americas are faced with a crisis. From the South American jungle to our cities and suburbs here in the North, planes, cars, trucks, boats, and human bodies haul loads of clean white powder. The substance is sucked ever northward into the hopeless vacuum of a wealthy country--a nation held together primarily by lies, temporary fixes, and instant gratification. As cocaine nears its destination, the risk for carrier and bystander increases exponentially as cargo, money, guns, and blood change hands and spill out onto the streets. Even now as the US lies stoned out of its head in a La-Z-Boy, the brain of our Central American brother is sprayed out of his head by one more bullet.

The majority of us isolated from such grisly violence, we treat our drug use as a health issue. We beg our loved ones to stop huffing the stuff "for their own health." Our national policies look for ways to provide rehab and a cure. We chuckle when rock stars', American idols', starlets', and executives' "embarrassing little habit" spills out into the light of day and then weep for our loss when their habit takes them away from us.

Those that sell drugs are punished severely, but are soon released while the consumer is slapped on the wrist and given a court date and doctor's appointment. Somehow as a capitalist nation we have failed to notice that the laws of supply and demand apply to drug use as well as any other commodity. How is it that we think that by removing the supply, the demand will decrease? The issue is not one of supply but of consumption. America the All-powerful Consumer does not just snort white lines, but the security, peace, and opportunity of millions of lives between that little green Colombian plant and its enormous nostril.

Every crack high of the American user is paid for not in dollars and pesos, but in blood, joy, and fear. Every dollar paid out to your friendly neighborhood dealer slides down the chain that pays bosses and cartels, enforcers and murders, child-sex traffickers and smugglers. That $10 high may have literally just paid to reload the clip of the man that tomorrow will unload that same clip into a Honduran father of 10 that is struggling to pay off a loan. Until the crushing despondence of our nation is overcome by true Hope, our  demand for a high will never decrease, and regardless of policy, well-funded cartels will find ways to slaughter, push, and transport cocaine through any obstacle to reach the client. We think that by throwing millions of dollars of police and military intervention at this problem we will overcome the cartels, but we forget how diligent the cartel's US clients are in paying for their services.

Our own nation is funding both sides of the war. Our brothers. Our neighbors. That awkward nephew. That CEO. That man in the pew. That coworker. That rock star. We pay out taxes to fight off the violence, while simultaneously paying the gangs and cartels to shoot their way through. If we cannot abate our consumption, we will continue to destroy Honduras and increase the number of immigrants that run for the US.

So what can we do about it?

1. Create social pressure against drug-use and advocate for local prevention. Provide Hope for those seeking significance in the bottle and syringe.
The violence of Honduras is based in their country's governmental corruption and our country's drug consumption, which in turn is rooted in our own nation's lack of lack of personal hope and character. By creating societal pressure against drug use, casual or otherwise, we can reduce our country's demand of the drug that drives the whole murderous machine. Our society's casual, nonchalant attitude towards drug use has allowed business to boom, its echoes heard in the gunshots on Honduran streets.

As believers, we are uniquely equipped to help the addict and pleasure-user. The release that most users seek from their drug of choice is often an undesired addiction or an escape mechanism from pain, either mental, emotional or physical. The hope we have in Christ is a highly-effective cure against this type of abuse. Our Hope is one that overcomes addiction and removes the sting from death. The relief that a user seeks cannot be relieved by continual temporary highs, but by true relief in a Savior that loves and wants us. By coming alongside addicts in recovery, we can share with them the love that we too have received. By advocating prevention, we can prevent so much suffering and come in contact with the hopeless before they turn to a darker path.

Our towns, cities, and boroughs are full of drug prevention and rehabilitation centers and programs, most of which are desperately in need of volunteers. Take up the cause of Christ by loving these people. Help them find Love and Hope in your arms as you become the body of Jesus. Listen to their stories. They need to be heard.

2. Engage and advocate for opportunity creation in Honduras.
Like everyone else in the world, Hondurans are looking to provide the best possible life for their family. When they cannot provide that with the resources honestly available to them, they look to greener pastures even if that grass is full of poison. A lack of good opportunities in Central America forces many honest people into dirty work. People that feel like they have options and a future for their children are more likely to make a stand against those that wrong them - including cartels and employers. Heart to Honduras and other organizations that work in grassroots, asset-based community development are making a difference in Honduras and the surrounding region. Your support of these organizations makes a real difference in the lives of everyday Hondurans by providing hope with your partnership. Check out the list of community development projects waiting sponsorship at http://hth.org/2011/get_involved/projects/. To learn more about appropriate intervention and aid by the US, consider reading When Helping Hurts by Fikkert and Jenkins or The White Man's Burden by Easterly.

3. Call for immigration policy clarification by the US Government.
As US citizens, we have the privilege to be able to directly correspond with our legislators, especially local representatives. The main issue that is currently affecting Honduras is not one particular legislation. The constant change and reiteration however are causing enormous confusion. It is my opinion that as the immigration debate drags on, our lack of firm policy is creating larger issues than the firm adherence to any single guideline. The US is now beginning to clarify its policy by quickly sending back many immigrants to Central America, but the longer that the discussion continues, the more confusion will continue south of the border.

4. Call for attainable temporary work visas for Central Americans accompanied by stronger legislation against new undocumented immigrants.
A short, responsible, legal stay in the United States can create a relatively enormous amount of wealth for a Central American in a very short amount of time. In my opinion, the creation of the opportunity for an average Central American to come to the US for a short 1-5 year work stay would relieve an incredible amount of illegal immigration. As the Visa system is currently designed, it is nearly impossible for the average Honduran to enter the US for any reason. In order to have a chance to travel to the US, you need proof of land, money, family, and employment in Honduras to which you should most likely return. Preferably, you are being invited by and vouched for by someone in the US as well. These recommended assets, in addition to costly visa appointments (nearly $150-equivalent to a month's salary for many), and a relatively low number of awarded visas prevent the vast majority of Hondurans from having a feasible way to legally arrive in the US.

However, in order to make sure these temporary-permit holders do not "lengthen" their stay. Strict monitoring and check-ins would be necessary in order to ensure visa holders timely return to their home country. Consistent, strict repercussions for offenders would quickly strengthen the policy's seriousness in Central American minds. I admit that of all the recommendations I am supplying here, I may be demonstrating my naivete of international policy most with this one.

5. Create social pressure against illegal hiring of undocumented immigrants.
Again, traditional flow of immigrants into the United States has hinged on job opportunities. Job-seeking immigrants would not continue to pour into the US if no one was hiring them. This is an issue of supply and demand primarily. However, this is complicated by the abundance of immigrants bearing falsified documents. In order to combat this particular issue requires either an enormous increase in social pressure against the hiring of illegal immigrants or increased legislation.

Traditionally the American public has quietly laughed about the hiring of illegal immigrants when it benefits them and then thrown a fit when it sees the consequence. Business owners quickly turn a blind-eye to a suspicious-looking document for cheap labor then scream about increased governmental regulation. The lack of integrity in the American business world provides both a reason for illegal immigration to continue at traditional rates and a reason for legislators to want to increase regulation.

6. Pray and listen.
This step can never be overrated. Lay this issue before God. Think, meditate, and allow God to use you in response. We are here on earth to be agents of hope, love, and change as we respond to the grace that we have received from God. Listen to God's leading. Listen to the voice of hurting. Stay aware of opportunities on your block, in your church, in your schools, in your home. Both the addict and illegal immigrant are people that have a story to tell, one that might amaze and humble you. Be willing to listen. Be willing to engage them. Be willing to share the Hope that you have within you.


  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share a thoughtful response to this issue that respects how complex it truly is. Love you three and continuing to pray for you and Las Lomitas!

  2. Appreciate you laying out so many concerns and ideas in the article - my awareness increased big-time. Now the big question remains for me and all that read this - what will we do about it?

    Love you guys!

  3. the US should learn to deal with trafficking the same way Syngapore deals wiith the problem.