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In both Honduras and Tijuana, I spoke with dozens of migrants and deportees who are weighing whether to leave their home for a new town or country. Though all their circumstances are unique, they were united in having to make complex calculations based on the danger they faced, the resources available to them and prior experiences with migration.
SAN PEDRO SULA, HONDURAS – N.T. is still deciding what his future holds.
At the end of May, an armed man entered N.T.’s sister’s beauty salon in Choloma, Honduras.
She was with two clients and her eldest daughter. N.T. was next door, where he runs a carpentry business. N.T. said he heard gunshots and ran to help his sister. She was already dead. He looked up to see a man running away.
The man had asked for their cellphones, N.T. said. They turned them over, but then he shot N.T.’s sister in the head five times.
“We didn’t recognize him,” he said. “We didn’t know who he was. I don’t know what the motive was.”
It seemed clear to N.T. that the person was targeting his sister, and that there was a reason why he wanted her cellphone. His sister had never told him about any problems she had with anyone, but N.T. said extortion is so common in Honduras that her business could have been targeted.
“It was very strange,” he said. “But that’s why I think it was planned. One shot could’ve been an accident. Two maybe, but five shots? That’s something personal.”
N.T. chased after the man, but lost him. N.T. and his niece, who’s 21, reported the murder both to police and the Honduran Commission on Human Rights. He agreed to assist authorities with the investigation – an ineffective move at best and dangerous move at worst in Honduras, where the perpetrators of violence often have ties to law enforcement, and impunity is widespread.
“The most important thing is the safety of my sister’s children,” N.T. said, noting that his sister was a single mother. “They are really the victims in everything that happened.”
Because they’d cooperated with authorities, N.T. and his niece feared they were being targeted by the same people who killed N.T.’s sister. N.T.’s niece decided to flee to the United States to request asylum along with her three siblings, all minors.
N.T. didn’t go with them.
For one, he had to take care of his elderly mother. But he had also been deported from the United States in 2010 after a criminal conviction, and he didn’t want to hurt his nieces’ and nephews’ chance at safety. (Voice of San Diego is withholding N.T.’s full name because he was a witness to a crime.)
He now remains in limbo in Honduras – he leaves his house as infrequently as possible, wary of people monitoring his movements, and weighs his options constantly: stay in Honduras in fear, where he risks retribution for reporting a crime; return to the United States to join family there and on the way, risk another deportation; or start a new chapter from scratch somewhere in Mexico.
The decision to migrate isn’t often a simple one.
In both Honduras and Tijuana, I spoke with dozens of migrants, deportees and people like N.T. who are weighing whether to migrate.
That meant grappling with major, life-altering decisions like whether to leave, where they’d go and how they’d get there. Though all their circumstances are unique, they were united in having to make complex calculations based on the danger they faced, the resources available to them, policies in the countries where they planned to go and their own – or their family’s – past experiences with migration.
Maria Contreras tried traveling to the United States last year with her 12-year-old niece. Her brother is already in North Carolina, where she intended to go. Contreras made it to the border. When she crossed the Rio Grande, she was immediately met by Border Patrol agents on the other side. Contreras was deported, but her niece stayed in the United States, reuniting with her father who has been there for years.
Contreras now lives in a town called Cofradía in Honduras. She plans to go to the United States again, and but thinks she might try to cross at a different part of the U.S.-Mexico border, since she was caught so quickly when she reached Texas. Contreras, who is a single mother, also plans to bring her kids this time. They stayed with her mom when she tried to migrate last time.
Contreras has a job, working at a maquila, or a foreign factory, but it doesn’t pay enough. She said she makes the equivalent of around $60 a week.
“I have three kids and my salary isn’t enough,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision, but in Honduras, the situation is awful and [the government] doesn’t do anything.”
Edy Orellano traveled to the Tijuana-San Diego border with the fall 2018 caravan that generated worldwide headlines and sparked President Donald Trump’s ire. Orellano said he was fleeing his country’s many problems: the poverty, the gangs, the corruption.
Orellano, 22, decided to stay in Tijuana, though. He obtained a temporary visa that allowed him to work, found an affordable room to rent in the city’s Otay neighborhood and a job working night shifts at a maquila.
Orellano has cousins in Raleigh, North Carolina, and said he still dreams of making it to the United States one day. He said he often finds himself looking at pictures of beaches in the United States on Google when he’s bored.
But he’s too scared to cross now. Since Trump took office, Orellano said he’s heard it’s harder to stay in the United States.
“They are deporting people immediately, as soon as they cross, even if you tell them you’re scared,” he said. Orellano didn’t want to go into detail about why he’s scared to return to Honduras, but the idea of being deported back there keeps him from even trying to cross into the United States.
“In my country, there’s death. Everything is burning right now,” he said. Widespread protests across Honduras have been marked by tires burning in streets during blockades and even at the U.S. embassy’s entrance.
Tijuana doesn’t always feel safe. And his pay isn’t much better than it would be in Honduras – roughly $80 a week. But it’s better than being back in Honduras, he said.
Orellano’s been saving what he can, so his 3-year-old-son and his son’s mother can join him in Tijuana soon. They’re planning on leaving in two weeks.
In 2017, G.F. fled Honduras and her abusive partner.
“I saw it as an obligation to leave my situation with my five children,” she said. (Voice of San Diego is withholding G.F.’s full name because she is a victim of domestic violence.)
She made it to Mexico, but was deported from Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state that shares a border with Guatemala. Upon being returned, G.F. came across a program of the Mennonite Social Action Commission in Honduras that works with displaced youth – including young, returned migrants in their 20s, like G.F. The program helped G.F. relocate within Honduras, away from her abuser. Through the program she received vocational training, like esthetician courses, and therapy.
The program gave her a support system amid other displaced young Hondurans that she didn’t have before. Now, she doesn’t feel the same desperate pull to the United States.
“It’s helped me to overcome many of my fears,” G.F. said. She’s been able to socialize with other single mothers, other victims of abuse, other deportees and young people in the country who feel frustrated, lost and hopeless.
“When you’re in these situations, it can be really alienating,” G.F. said. “But it’s been an empowering experience to be able to share your problems with other people and hear their problems, so that we can all support each other.”
There is one thing that still lingers – a reason she’d still like to at least visit the United States one day. Her father left her family when she was little to work in New Jersey. She hasn’t seen him since. He’s now sick and likely doesn’t have many more years of life ahead of him.
“That’s the one reason I’d still like to go to the United States,” G.F. said. “I’d like to be able to see my father one more time since I never really got to spend time with him growing up.”
Josue left Honduras at the beginning of April. In less than two weeks, he said he was detained after Mexican immigration authorities stopped a bus he was riding in Oaxaca. Josue’s mom recalls her 17-year-old son calling her crying after he was detained. “He thought he had failed me,” she told me. (VOSD is withholding Josue’s full name because he is a minor.)
Less than two months since he returned to Honduras, Josue said he is already thinking of leaving again. He works collecting bus fare on buses. The money he earns ebbs and flows, depending on a given day’s ridership, and the job can be dangerous. Gang violence and other criminal activity extends into public transportation and it’s not unheard of for bus drivers to be killed in the cross-hairs. And these days there are new risks: With protests happening throughout Honduras over health care and education reforms, buses can be caught in blockades, at the mercy of both protestors and law enforcement. Josue’s mom hasn’t let him go to work in days because of safety concerns, like rocks being thrown through bus windows during protests, but that means even the little money he brought home for his mom and sister hasn’t been coming in.
“There are no resources here to be able to prosper,” Josue said. For he and his mom, the decision to keep trying to migrate is one for the whole family.
“I want to search for a new place, where I can be able to prosper and work,” he said. He traveled alone last time, but thinks next time he goes, he’ll be better off with a group. Now it’s just about finding the money to make the journey. Even saving up enough for bus tickets and food along the way can take months.
Srikrishnan’s trip to Honduras was funded by the International Center for Journalists.