Our experience in Honduras is ending soon. Yesterday we visited a center for migrants who are deported from the US. We arrived at the center near the airport just before the flight arrived. We were greeted by a Sister from an Italian missionary order, the Scalabrini’s who are dedicated to ministry with migrants all over the world. She is assisted by a group of volunteers from local colleges and others. Two medical students and a social worker were there to assist with health issues. A pile of US AID bags with the words “from the American people” were on the floor. They contained only a small pack of personal care items- like a toothbrush,toothpaste, and hair gel. When the bus pulled up to the door, volunteers handed out belts and shoe laces (because these items are not allowed in the immigration prisons where they were previously held), a white tshirt, the US AID bags, as well as a cup of coffee and a baleada (Honduran typical food- made of tortilla and beans). Luggage arrived separately. Bags contained whatever personal items the person had when they were picked up. Most people’s personal items things were in mesh bags with only 3-5 items. Others had a suitcase. Some had been detained at the border. Others had been in detention or prison for much longer periods of time. They hadn’t seen their belongings since they were detained, and for some that might have been a lengthy time in detention. People were excited to see their cell phones again. One man looked lovingly through a stack of photos. Someone told us that the men had been shackled at their hands, waist and feet during the plane ride. In total 123 people were in the group. The plane had embarked from Virginia. Almost all were men. I saw only four or five women. I really wanted to cry when I saw them coming in. Most were young. A few had actually lived in the US for a number of years! At the center they are given a bus ticket back to their homes. Most leave Honduras in the first place because they can’t find work or are escaping violence! One of the men we spoke to outside was nicely dressed. He had lived in the US for 12 years. He had a suitcase -his whole life in a bag.
The Center is called the “Center for Returned Migrants.” The Honduran government doesn’t use term “deported.” The US government doesn’t either, calling deportations “removals.” So far this year, 21,800 have been received at the Center. This number is already higher than last year. (19,000). There are 2-3 flights a day, Monday- Friday. This just counts those who are adults who have been deported from the United States, there are many more children and adults deported from Mexico who come in at a different center.
One young man we met at a vocational training center run by the Mennonite Central Committee shared about his experience migrating North, being caught after walking 3 days in the desert in Arizona, then being forced to sign his voluntary departure without knowing what it was while he was in detention, before he could get in contact with a lawyer or his brother living in the US. For many youth, once they are deported, their families often push them to leave and try again. This, in a country where there is no social security for the aged, and the factories won’t hire you if you are older than 30.
Carlos, was one of our security guards at the Catholic Retreat Center where we have been staying. He was deported 6 years ago. He is delightful, friendly, and a terrific English speaker. Living in New York for 14 years, he worked in a bakery and then in scrap metal. When he was deported, he left behind 3 children, a wife and grandchildren. He is denied entry for 20 years. It was sad to talk to him about Christmas coming up and him being so far away from his family.
- by Phyllis Tierney and Deborah Lee