A small group of Honduran undocumented migrants, all women and children, were flown aboard a charter flight back to Honduras on Monday, as the Obama administration seeks to expedite deportations amid a surge of desperate migrants from Central America.
The 38 deportees arrived in San Pedro Sula -- one of the most violent cities on Earth -- greeted by news crews, politicians and even the first lady of Honduras, Ana García de Hernández. Aid workers handed out lollipops, balloons and toys, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Hernández is heading an effort to get Hondurans to stay in their country and abstain from the dangerous and now largely fruitless journey across Guatemala and Mexico to the U.S. border. She visited South Texas immigration shelters and visited with local lawmakers in late June to better understand the crisis at the border. She expressed frustration after meeting the returning deportees.
“These are people with dreams, with illusions, and who come [back] in very difficult conditions, who are seeing that their dreams were not made a reality, seeing their aspirations frustrated. Many of them return empty-handed,” she said. “And the only thing they have are debts to pay because before leaving they got rid of everything had.”
The group was being housed at a brand new U.S. immigration detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. There are 400 migrants currently being held there, but there is room for 300 more. Homeland Security officials hope that migrants’ paperwork and legal cases can be handled and set for deportation within two to four days of their arrival.
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President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion in additional funding from Congress to handle what the White House calls a humanitarian crisis. Since October 2013, 52,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, have crossed the border. The U.S. has returned 82,000 Central American migrants in this fiscal year alone. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson reiterated Obama’s blunt statement that “We’ll send you back,” during a tour of the Artesia facility.
“Our message is clear. If you come to this country illegally, we will send you back - consistent with our laws and values,” Johnson said. “This facility demonstrates our commitment to building additional capacity to do this quickly, safely and humanely.”
First lady Hernández’s husband, President Juan Hernández of Honduras, said in an interview that U.S. drug policy was largely to blame for the violence in Honduras that drives so many to seek refuge in America.
"Honduras has been living in an emergency for a decade. The root cause is that the United States and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs. Then Mexico did it,” he told Mexico’s Excelsior newspaper.
Hernández says the mission to drive out drug traffickers and the associated violence from the U.S., Mexico and Colombia only pushed them into his country. Indeed, according to a U.N. study, some 58 percent of children who have recently migrated across the U.S. border alone do so because they feel unsafe in their home countries. Salvadoran children expressed the most concern out of their Central American peers; 63 percent of children spoke about violence in their communities and nearly 95 percent of them say that violence was at the hands of gangs.
Johnson visited Guatemala last week to meet with President Otto Fernando Pérez Molina to discuss strategies for stemming the flow of illegal migrants from Central America.