The Violence and Poverty Honduran Migrants are Fleeing

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz.

Asylum Seekers in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Daniel Arauz.

In November of 2018, a caravan was tear gassed by the US Border Patrol, and US immigration policies are increasingly strict along the southern border. Still, many Hondurans endure the 1000-mile journey from Central America to the United States in hopes of obtaining a more peaceful and prosperous life.

Honduras is described by the Human Rights Watch as a place in which “impunity for crime and human rights abuses is the norm”. Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. One of it’s largest cities, San Pedro Sula, was known as the murder capital of the world until 2016. The high murder rate can be attributed to an increase in gang activity in recent years. Because of a crack down on the drug trade in Colombia, Honduras has taken a larger role in the cocaine trade. Honduras is now a major transit zone for cocaine. Now, Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and Barro 18, terrorize locals in major cities. Some migrants understandably cite threats from gang members as their reason for leaving.

Certain viewpoints are ostracized by Honduran society, and activists and journalists are too often targeted by assassins. According to Global Witness, 111 Honduran environmental activists were murdered between 2002 and 2011. This shocking statistic led Global Witness to call Honduras “the most dangerous country to be an environmental activist. The vast majority of these cases go unsolved, including one high-profile case involving the murder of Berta Cáceres. Four government (or ex-government) officials have been tried for her murder, but the case was thrown away in 2018. Journalists face similar danger; between 2014 and 2016, 21 journalists were murdered, and only 9% of these murders were solved. Because of the high murder rate, officials find it difficult to keep up with cases, and many cases end up unsolved.

Women are especially susceptible to violence. According to the United Nations, one in five Honduran women experience physical or sexual violence. Femicide, the killing of women for their gender, is one of the highest in the world, accounting for 9.6% of the homicides in Honduras. Fewer than 3% of Femicide cases are resolved by the courts. Gender based hate crimes could explain the fact that women and children are migrating at higher rates than ever before.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the Honduran people endure a government in which “[corruption] is the operating system of sophisticated networks that cross sectoral and national boundaries in their drive to maximize returns for their members”. No one better exemplifies corruption in Honduras than President Juan Orlando Hernández, a conservative, pro-business leader. Hernández almost lost the reelection in 2017, yet just as his opponent, Salvador Nasralla, was ahead in polls by 5 points, the Honduras Broadcast Commission (which was mostly staffed by Hernández appointees) ended the broadcast of the election. It was later announced that Hernández won the election. Hondurans suspected the election was corrupt, thus tens of thousands of Hondurans protested Hernández’s election only to be met with bullets, tear gas, and arrests. Organizations like the Organization for American States and the European Union found reasons to question the validity of the elections.  The Organization for American States found “Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system” and “intentional elimination of digital traces”. On the 1 year anniversary of Hernández’s election, January 27, 2019, protests broke out again.

According to the World Bank Group, 66% of Hondurans are living in poverty; 1 in 5 Hondurans have an income under $1.50 a day. Honduras is also burdened with the highest level of income inequality in Latin America. The per capita income of the average Honduran is $4,563.80, meager compared to the $60,200 per capita income in the United States. Given the circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why migrants are headed for the United States. The immigration process is lengthy and many Hondurans don’t have the time to wait for the United States to grant them visas legally. The immense poverty and crime has left many Hondurans with little choice other than to attempt immigration into the United States.

GINNY KEENAN is an NYU student currently studying abroad in London. She intends to major in journalism, and reads in her free time. She is always looking for new travel opportunities.

The Border Restaurant That Makes Asylum Seekers Feel at Home

The Mexican border town of Tijuana is home to thousands of Haitians. Most are asylum-seekers, stuck in administrative limbo as they await potential entry to the United States. To help them feel more at-home, Fausta Rosalía—owner of a popular lunch spot—decided to switch up her traditional offerings of tacos and quesadillas to better serve the city’s new residents. Now, she’s cooking Haitian food in the hopes that a taste of home will make life a little bit easier for so many.

Americans and Mexicans Living at the Border are More Connected Than Divided

People cross the international border from Mexico to the U.S. in Nogales, Arizona. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

People cross the international border from Mexico to the U.S. in Nogales, Arizona. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

In 2002, I began traveling the entire length of the U.S.-Mexico border on both sides. From Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, the border measures almost 2,000 miles.

What distinguished my journey was that I began traveling well before the idea of fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border entered public consciousness. Inadvertently, I became witness to the wall’s construction and its impact on the lives of border dwellers, which I reported in my book, “Why Walls Won’t Work.”

Shortly after 9/11, as I explain in the the book, the U.S. built 650 miles of walls and fences along of the 700-mile land boundary with Mexico. The 1,200-mile river boundary has few walls, but the Rio Grande/Río Bravo del Norte acts as a natural barrier and is supplemented by other methods of surveillance, including sound and motion detectors.

Nothing like it ever existed in the territory that is now the U.S.-Mexico boundary. It usurps cross-border connections that have origins in prehistoric times. Twin-city communities remain closely connected through work, family, schooling, leisure, commerce and culture. For them, the territory between the two nations is not a matter of sovereignty, difference and separation, but instead is the very foundation of their way of life.

The wall slices through borderland communities disrupting binational trade worth over US$400 billion every year as well as the lives of more than 10 million U.S. and Mexican citizens who reside in the borderland’s six major “twin cities” – San Diego-Tijuana, Calexico-Mexicali, the two Nogales, El Paso-Ciudad Juárez, Laredo-Nuevo Laredo and Brownsville-Matamoros. Adding a new wall, as President Trump proposes, could only worsen the situation without making any measurable impact on border security.

A third nation

During my travels, I started thinking of the space between the two countries as a kind of “third nation.” I confess, I’ve never heard anyone in a border city refer to their turf as a third nation. Locals have many other ways of describing their special connection across the line, like “twin cities” and “ciudades hermanas” (sister cities). Some even call themselves “transborder citizens” living in a “transfrontier metropolis.”

I’ve often been told by people who live binational lives that they forget which side of the border they’re on. But in my experience, the single most common expression of cross-border connection is when people assert that they have more in common with one another than with citizens of their countries.

Traditionally, the word “nation” refers to a group of people who voluntarily identify with others on the basis of shared history, geography, ethnicity, cultural tradition, language and alliances against external threat. The sentiment that unites them is commonly called nationalism. Both terms are imprecise – which is why experts sometimes refer to nations as imagined communities – but there can be no doubt about their appeal, potency and consequence. When a nation acquires the right to govern a territory, then the territory is considered a formal nation-state.

I define a third nation as a community of common interest carved out of two existing nation-states. Transcending geopolitical boundaries, it occupies an in-between space and fosters an identity that is distinct from each country. The alliance is not solely based on material connections such as trade, but also represents a kind of “mental map,” or cognitive awareness, shared by citizens.

I consider the U.S.-Mexico border to be a third nation, which has evolved out of several forms in the past. Historically, these include the 12th- and 13th-century Chichimeca region, which was located between the Anasazi people of the pre-U.S. Southwest and the southern Aztec heartland of Mesoamerica. It was also manifested along the northern edges of Nueva España (New Spain) which buffered the volatile indigenous southwestern tribes from the more regulated Spanish colonial heartland around Mexico City.

Today, the Tohono O’Odham Indian Nation is bisected by the U.S.-Mexico boundary between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. It possesses an enduring sense of identity, autonomous tribal institutions and laws, and formal territorial organizations that straddle the boundary line.

Imagining a territory as a third nation draws attention to the depth of integration between peoples on either side of the border. The other terms I mentioned (twin city, etc.) convey a sense of material connectivity and integration, but the “third nation” idea adds the weight of subjective attachment, tradition and shared outlook that transcends the line.

Borderland voices

A year ago, I was on the Mexican side of the border in Nogales, where an earlier prototype of the wall had appeared during the mid-1990s. A teenage student asked me what would happen if the walls came down, and I replied: “It will be like it was in the old days.” Hesitating, she asked: “What was it like in the old days?”

I realized then that her generation had lived most of their lives in the shadow of walls. Their parents remember a different time, when they crossed over the line without hindrance to graze animals or join a weekend softball game. They recall the times when crossing the border was as easy as crossing a street.

A woman walks toward the U.S. border port with Mexico in Nogales, Arizona. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A woman walks toward the U.S. border port with Mexico in Nogales, Arizona. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

These days, despite the wall, people continue to traverse the line legally in large numbers but only through official ports of entry. For instance, San Diego-Tijuana is the busiest port on the borderline, processing an average of 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers and 20,000 northbound pedestrians per day. Border crossers have become accustomed to delays imposed by the wall, and tune into media to factor them into their commutes. You might see agricultural workers driving at 4 a.m. from Mexicali, Mexico to fields in the Imperial Valley. Or, parents of Mexican children organizing early morning carpools to ferry their kids to school in Calexico, California using special passes that speed up the commute. They’ve learned how to cope.

But make no mistake: Border people want their former lives back. They insist that the damage caused by the walls be repaired. They ask that no more walls be constructed, and that the $25 billion it would cost to build more walls be diverted to increasing the number and capacity of official ports of entry. They ask for the right to manage their destinies without interference from outsiders.

A 2016 survey of residents in the twin cities confirmed that the borderland is increasingly becoming “one giant economically integrated, bicultural society.” An Arizona respondent emphasized the importance of maintaining connections across the line: “Our lifeline is across the border… Without Mexicans, we don’t exist. Our life is sucked away.” Another, this time from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico in Tamaulipas state, expressed his concern this way: “If [they] build a wall, we will be alone.”

Interviews from the survey show that unlike many people in the U.S., border residents do not equate wall-building with national security. One man, originally from Mexico but now living in Texas, said that he was not opposed to more Border Patrol officers, nor the presence in Mexico of U.S. military helping in the drug war. But walls he resisted, because “A wall is a symbol of discrimination, racism, segregation, not a solution for security, or for reducing violence.”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso, captured a sentiment widely held by survey respondents: “It says something really beautiful that the border, two countries, two languages, two cultures, at this point become essentially one people.”

The third-nation citizens I meet are fiercely independent. They work hard. They have no choice but to shoulder the burdens of our nation’s obsession with immigration, drugs and national security. Yet their aspirations are no different from yours or mine, and now more than ever their voices deserve to be heard.

MICHAEL DEAR is a Professor Emeritus of City & Regional Planning at the University of California at Berkeley.