August 7, 2007

Keep them, please!

"Continue constructing the wall,
as high as that
those who continue jumping it can't come back!"
Cartoons: Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

A funny cartoon, but based in truth. Honduran President Mel Zelaya met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a few weeks ago to ask that the U.S. stop what he calls a "massive and selective" deportation of Hondurans who are in the U.S. illegally.

In 2005, 19,000 Hondurans were deported from the U.S. In 2006, 24,000. At the current pace, this number is estimated reach 40,000 in 2007.

Both the Honduras and US government estimate that there are one million Hondurans in the U.S. and about 70% are there illegally. If true, one out of every eight Hondurans is in the U.S. I say "if true" because it isn't like anyone checks out of Honduras or into the U.S. if they are going illegally. The number could be much larger.

An estimated 40,000 are in Spain, 100,000 in Belize, and even larger numbers in Canada and Mexico.

There have been some (I think bogus) complaints of human rights violations from the deportees upon returning to Honduras. One stated that she was kept in a cold cell in Texas for three days. "A cold cell in Texas" in July can only mean one thing: the A/C thermostat was set too low. Prisoners in Honduras don't even get fed, much less air conditioned cells, so give me a break! Charging human rights violations in cases like this only detracts from real human rights violations across the globe − like the case in Honduras in 2004 where more than 100 prisoners burned to death in a cellblock while the guards stood outside refusing to unlock the door or the Honduras prison fire in 2003 which killed 68.

President Zelaya promised that the Honduran government would strenuously defend the rights of Honduran immigrants, without elaborating. The truth is that Mel is not so concerned with the rights of immigrants as he is with the Honduran economy.

The Honduran economy cannot support this increase in growth of deportees. Those deportees will no longer be sending remesas (cash remittances) which represent somewhere between 20-30% of the gross national income. Additionally, if they can find jobs here, they will be taking jobs away from other citizens in a country where the unemployment and underemployment rate is already about 30%. So each deportee is a double hit against the economy. And then there is the fact that some of them are criminals or gang members.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency estimates that that Hondurans make up the second-largest illegal population in the U.S. behind Mexicans. U.S. statistics indicate that a Honduran national tries to slip into the country illegally about every 15 minutes. Honduran estimates are that 50 Hondurans leave the country every single day. Many of the returning deportees stay only long enough to save up the money for another trip back to the U.S.

As you know from previous articles, I have a lot of sympathy for desperate people who go to el otro lado (the other side). I have sympathy for the deportees and their wives and families, as well. Imagine going from making US $10 per hour (or more) to making $5 per day in Honduras, IF you can even find a job. That would be a tough adjustment and results in a lot of unhappy, angry citizens.

But recently I heard of a case that has to grab everyone's sympathy. Imagine if you were 30 years old or so, educated, married, with a job and a family, and all of a sudden the immigration cops pick you up and say, "You're going back to − oh, let's say − China! You don't remember ever being in China, you don't know anyone in China, you don't know if you have any relatives there, you don't know the culture, you don't even know where to live or how to get your Chinese birth certificate so you can get a job there. Pretty scary, eh?

Why would that happen? Because 25 years ago your mommy carried her 5-year-old over the border illegally. Mom is still in the U.S., but you are going back. Wow. Where is the justice in that? Mom is the one that committed a crime, not the little boy or his wife and children. Maybe there needs to be a statute of limitations here.

Three days after President Zelaya's meeting with Ms. Rice, the U.S. deported two plane loads of Hondurans instead of the usual one plane load. A week later, 400 deportees were sent back in one day alone. Talk about a slap in the face! I was a little worried that Mel might retaliate by sending some of us expatriates back to the U.S., especially ingrates like me.

Instead, he decided to take the soft-glove approach. To set a good example for the United States, (yes, they did put it exactly that way − heh, heh), Honduras Migration announced a request to the National Congress to pass a law for an amnesty for illegal aliens in Honduras. They estimate that there are about 30,000, including U.S. American, illegals in Honduras! Honduras has deported about 3,000 illegal immigrants in the past 3 years, some of whom were Americans. Interesting!
(Just so there is no doubt, I AM legal. I have my little potato-head card to prove it.)

Even men who should be the pride of the nation, like Aaron, have thought about leaving. Between the Honduran deportations and the mass exodus of Hondurans, will the last one here please turn out the lights?

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