How immigration is hurting Honduran families — and what CRS is doing to limit it

Honduras migrants Honduran family in front of their adobe house near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. | Credit: Shutterstock

Father Luis Melquiades, a parish priest in the small town of Mercedes de Oriente in southwestern Honduras, spoke with sadness about how as a teenager he felt abandoned by his father who decided to migrate in search of work.

“My dad left for the United States when I was 14, out of need and poverty. I always judged him, until I understood why he had left,” the priest shared in an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner.

Melquiades, 33, the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in the La Paz district, recounted that for his 10 siblings — many of whom did not know his father — “the effect was devastating.” 

“One day, when he came back, it was very difficult for my siblings to go up to him, because they didn’t know him. Until then, he only sent money for us to study,” he lamented.

The priest’s experience is just one of many stories of family breakdown that occur daily in Honduras, a Central American country from which many migrants come.

Situations such as lack of work, low wages, poverty, weather disasters, and government neglect are some of the reasons that drive people to illegal immigration, mainly to Mexico and the United States.

In July 2022, the National Institute of Statistics (INE) of Honduras reported that 73% of the population is poor and that 53% lives in extreme poverty.

“Family breakdown occurs in many cases because the father leaves and doesn’t return. Also the older brothers leave, start a family, and don’t return. This situation greatly affects the children’s upbringing, because separation is always painful,” Melquiades explained.

There are few figures on the number of Hondurans who emigrate. However, according to the most recent data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2019 there were a total of 800,707 migrants, or 8.35% of the Honduran population. Most of them are currently in the United States.

Concepción Velásquez, president of Faith and Hope Catholic community in the town of Mercedes de Oriente, told ACI Prensa that just in his town of about 1,200 inhabitants, there are several “separated families and marriage breakdowns.”

“Mainly because there are men who leave for up to 20 years and don’t come back,” she said.

Gabriela Morales, vice president of Faith and Hope, lamented that in her community there are even some cases in which “both parents of a family migrate and the children are left in the care of the grandparents.”

“As parish catechists we have had to deal with these problems. You can see the absence of their parents,” she lamented in an interview with ACI Prensa.

Morales said that migration is not a situation that occurs because someone “really wants it” but mainly “because of the lack of employment.”

“Our youth and families want to get ahead and live a comfortable life, but the economic situation doesn’t allow it,” she stressed.

CRS works to strengthen Honduran families

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international humanitarian agency created by the USCCB, has worked for decades to develop projects so communities such as Mercedes de Oriente can make progress and avoid migration by its inhabitants.

More in Americas

Partners such as Cáritas Honduras or Asomaincupaco (Association for the Comprehensive Management of La Paz and Comayagua Watersheds) have joined this work.

Haydee Díaz, the representative of CRS in Honduras and the Caribbean, explained to ACI Prensa that “people feel forced to migrate, although it’s not what they really want.”

“This is a disaster, because young people have an important role in the community. They are often the people who are innovating in the communities, who are coming up with new ideas and promoting new activities,” she explained in a recent interview.

Some of the agricultural initiatives promoted by CRS in the country are water reservoirs, irrigation systems, or greenhouses covered with plastic sheeting.

CRS also promotes training for Hondurans to organize themselves into savings and loan groups, or to work in a job that’s in high demand in their community and then learn how to create their own business.

Elvin Márquez, a 32-year-old Honduran from the town of San Antonio in the La Paz district, was one of the beneficiaries of the projects. He received training from CRS and Asomaincupaco to become a “paravet,” a livestock and farm animal veterinary technician.

“Learning this through workshops was necessary because it has generated better income for me. Unlike agriculture, the need to administer medicines and take care of livestock is constant," he told ACI Prensa.

(Story continues below)

Another success story is that of Rony Figueroa, a Catholic father of a family who experienced migration firsthand.

In 2007 he traveled to the United States to earn money, but four years later he decided to return to his hometown of Aguanqueterique in the La Paz district in order to see his family again and to try to get himself established.

Thanks to the implementation of CRS’ “Roots” project in 2020, he was able to develop a farm where he has various crops, water collection, and fish ponds.

Currently, migration has become an unthinkable situation for him and his family.

“I feel proud of Honduras. It’s where I was born, and now I am supposed to be a bearer of light for others,” he told ACI Prensa.

CRS representative Díaz explained that “when people have food and their own crops, they can provide their family with daily bread and generate income by selling their products in the market.”

“When this happens we see that families and young people want to stay in Honduras, in their communities, because what they need most is to have a decent income,” she said.

According to the CRS specialist, water reservoirs and irrigation projects represent a way to ensure that families can raise crops and have a surplus.

“That’s what stops migration, because people don’t have that despair of not being able to take care of the most basic things,” she explained.

Díaz also highlighted that the work done by CRS “is not only economic, but really is a vision of comprehensive development to promote the dignity of each person.”

“In the communities we need young people who learn farming and who see agriculture and agricultural development in their communities as a way to move their communities forward, not only by farming, but by running a business that brings in income for the family,” she concluded. 

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.