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In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surge

  • Brian Padden

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. These rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.

Most teenagers and young children attempting to migrate to the Unites States from Honduras never make it. Many are apprehended in Guatemala and Mexico and brought to this processing center for returned migrants in San Pedro Sula.

A 19-year-old woman traveling with her son, who does not want her face shown, says she went in search of a better life.

“I would go again because as I told you getting a job here is scarce," she said.

In Honduras, 60 percent of the people live in poverty, and crime and gang violence are serious problems. But these conditions have existed for years.

Alexander Leiva, with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, says the cause of the current surge is the spread of false promises in the region that certain migrants who make it to the U.S. border will be given amnesty.

“That is if they immigrate with a minor, they would get special or preferential treatment, so they can go in and work in the United States, and that is completely false," said Leiva.

These stories often cite President Obama’s 2012 ruling to end deportations of young illegal immigrants. But what has gotten lost in translation is that this ruling applies only to immigrants who already had been living in the country for the last five years.

“This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship," said President Obama.

Outside of Tegucigalpa, a group called Funmiredh raises money to help resettle deportees. The group’s leader, Carlos Dias, says the story he heard was that the U.S. was offering amnesty for a limited time.

“It seems there was a last-minute publication that amnesty, or I don’t know what, was expiring. But from then on was when the children and parents began to immigrant with greater frequency," said Dias.

Some like Billy Noel have also heard it is easy to claim refugee status to escape gang violence.

"Yes, I was told that the government will let you stay over there. You could ask for political asylum or pay a bail," said Noel.

In part to counter the amnesty rumors, the U.S. is conducting a high profile and accelerated deportation process. It is also considering setting up a refugee screening process that would allow legitimate claims to be addressed in Honduras and not at the border.