Angelica Galvez set off this summer on a grueling, one-month journey to the U.S. – fleeing economic hardship in violence-ridden Honduras and seeking a better life for her six-year-old daughter.
“We traveled by train, we had to sleep on a hill and even beg for money,” she told local Catholic weekly newspaper Fides.
The young mother's hopes were cut short, however, once she reached El Paso, Texas. She was detained on June 28 for several weeks and later deported along with seven other women and 22 children.
For Angelica, a journey of 30 days to America ultimately lead to a four-hour flight back to her home country, where drug-related conflict has ripped the economy and robbed many locals of their livelihoods and lives.
“It's very harsh and to arrive there and not even be given an opportunity,” she said of her time in the U.S., adding that “frustration over the lack of job opportunities” in Honduras is what pushed her to risk seeking what she called the “American dream.”
“We crossed the river, we walked a lot and immigration caught us. They treated us very poorly and offended us,” she said of the day she and her daughter were detained by officials in Texas.
“They did not treat us well. I have cried a lot. They took us away at three in the morning without telling us they were taking us to Honduras,” Angelica recalled.
Escalating violence in recent months has had devastating effects on security, economy and daily life in the country.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second largest city, has in recent years been called the murder capital of the world. Drug trafficking and gang violence led in 2012 to 1,218 homicides in the city: a rate of 169 per 100,000 people.
By comparison, the same year, New Orleans, considered the most violent city in the U.S., had a murder rate of 53 per 100,000 people.
Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell – a legislative affairs specialist in Catholic Relief Services' D.C. Office – called the situation a “refugee crisis” due to “violence, insecurity and displacement in Central America and Mexico.”
“The gangs which are terrorizing young people and their families here initially got their start on the streets of Los Angeles,” she explained.
U.S. deportation of young people to Central America in the 1990s helped the gangs “flourish” due to the lack of jobs and easy access to weapons in the receiving countries, she said.
Recent statistics say 52 percent of the Honduran population suffers from lack of employment; more than two-thirds of the country lives in poverty and five out of ten live in extreme poverty.
Now, Angelica must pay back the money she borrowed to emigrate.
“I brought around two thousand Honduran lempiras (around one hundred dollars) and another one thousand dollars to cross to river.”
According to Fides, the first flight carrying 30 women and children who were captured and deported from El Paso arrived in Honduras on July 14. Sister Valdete Willeman, director of the local Center for the Care of Returning Migrants, received the families.
“It hurts to see these mothers coming back carrying their children, even one with a six-month-old baby on that dangerous migration route,” she said.
Sister Willeman lamented the “huge trauma” that these women and mothers endure. “The children are the most vulnerable. They came back sick with fevers and sore throats. Obviously they were affected by the change in weather and the poor diet.”
“The life of someone who has been deported is marked, like a seal,” Sister Willeman said, adding that she was saddened to see a young 16-year-old mother carrying her two year-old son.
“A mother and her six month-old baby were even captured, a baby who has nothing to do with this reality.”