Image Source: NBC News

Why are Hondurans Immigrating?

US immigration border apprehensions.PNG

In recent months, thousands of Hondurans left behind their homes in hopes of migrating to the US, many of them traveling in migrant caravans. These stories dominated the US news, but Central American migration is nothing new. In fact, immigration numbers have dropped in half over the past decade. As you can see in this graph from Vox, the overall number of immigrants coming to the US have more than halved, although now a larger portion are coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

What is causing so many Hondurans and Central Americans to migrate? For many, low wages, lack of jobs, and persistent poverty push them to immigrate. Over 66% of Honduras’ population lives in poverty, leaving many without the resources necessary to provide for their families and causing them to search for a better life elsewhere. But beyond economic factors, the prevalence of violence and corruption in Honduras threatens lives and livelihoods and contributes to the many people leaving behind their homes.

Violence

Homicide rates global 2017.PNG

In recent years, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have faced “unprecedented levels of violence.” In 2011, Honduras had a homicide rate of 86.5 per 100,000 people, earning it the title of “murder capital of the world”. In contrast, this was 18 times higher than the homicide rate in the US at the time. Though homicides in Honduras are now half of what they were in 2011, the murder rate is still significantly higher than other countries around the world.

Beyond the murder rate, crime is also commonplace in Honduras. Robbery, gang violence, extortion, and assault are daily realities for many, especially those living in Honduras’ poor urban neighborhoods. According to a Doctors without Borders survey, 57% of Honduran migrants reported that they never felt safe while at home.

Violence infiltrates every part of society, leaving a noticeable impact on Hondurans’ everyday lives. High rates of violence can mean that it’s be too dangerous for children to play outside or for families to go out at night. People often aren’t safe from assault or robbery during their daily commute. Violent gangs frequently target businesses, extorting a “tax” under threat of violence, which robs the small profits people might have earned. And for vulnerable groups like journalists or the LGBT community, this threat of violence is particularly dangerous.

Violence destroys social connection and opportunities for improvement, especially for the poor. As Gary Haugen points out in The Locust Effect: “Efforts to end global poverty and to secure the most basic human rights for the poor are failing because crime and violence against the poor are not being addressed.”

Not only do Hondurans face high levels of violence, but it’s also unlikely that they will ever see justice for those crimes. Honduras has an impunity rate of 88%, meaning that the majority of people who commit a crime will never be convicted in court. Seventy-five percent of homicide cases are never even tried, leaving a backlog of more than 180,000 cases in the Honduran courts. When crimes easily go unpunished, it allows criminals to walk freely and perpetuates Honduras’s violence. And it leaves people feeling unprotected and vulnerable to crime.

Honduras’s violence ends up pushing many people to feel like they have no option but to leave for their safety and that of their children.

Corruption

LA corruption ranking 2017_0.PNGCorruption is the intentional misuse of public resources for personal gain, and Honduras has one of the highest rates of corruption in the world. According to Transparency International’s 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, Honduras ranked 135 out of 177 countries, with a score of 29/100 (by comparison, the least corrupt country in the world, New Zealand, has a score of 89 out of 100). Over the past few years, Honduras’ Corruption Perceptions Index has actually grown, as residents’ perceptions of corruption have become greater.

When corruption happens in Honduras’ already weak institutions, it ends up preventing Hondurans from having access to basic services: it means that public hospitals have no medications to treat sick patients, children don’t have teachers,World Corruption 2017.PNG and government officials charged with protecting their citizens hurt them instead. Even though corruption happens at the hands of those in power, it ends up primarily hurting poor Hondurans.

When governments buy poor-quality medicine at an inflated price, it hurts the people who depend on government pharmacies. When the government doesn’t keep track of where its teachers are, it holds children back from getting a good education or achieving what they could. When public purchasing favors politically-motivated and overpriced contracts, poor Hondurans are the ones who have to pay.

The failure of the government to provide basic services ends up deepening social problems and poverty, leaving people without hope that they can improve their future.

How can we address immigration?

We believe that Hondurans shouldn’t have to immigrate in order to live a life full of security, peace, and the ability to provide for their families. By addressing violence and corruption as root causes of migration, we are able to be part of constructing a better future for Honduras.

AJS has already made progress in fighting injustice throughout Honduras through our work in investigating homicides in communities and advocating nationally against the persistence of corruption. Since being called the murder capital of the world, Honduras’s homicide rate has dropped in half. We are bringing to light more and more cases of corruption, such as the use of public funds for political purposes and high-level drug traffickers being extradited to the US. And since becoming the national chapter of Transparency International, AJS has worked to evaluate government ministries and seen an average improvement of 24% in areas of purchasing, human resources, and reliability.

Despite these successes in fighting violence and corruption, many Hondurans are still choosing to immigrate. For some, the persistence of poverty and lack of economic opportunities pushes them to take immediate action to improve their lives. And for others, violence and corruption are still everyday realities. Even though statistics show that violence has reduced, most people still don’t feel safe. While government corruption is being called out, people are still afraid to trust public systems. Strengthening Honduras’ systems will, in fact, take years, but it is work that will prove to make Honduras a safer place.

This work requires standing up against powerful forces, a daunting and dangerous task, and one that won’t happen overnight. AJS’s 130 staff in Honduras are bravely working towards making Honduras’ systems work to serve the poorest and most vulnerable in the country to build a brighter future for Honduras.

Read our reflection on the October 2018 migrant caravan, or learn more about how we’re working to create a more just society in our work against violence and corruption.

Updated January 2019

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"How to Solve a Murder in Honduras," a special series from AJS that tells the story of how criminal investigators, lawyers, police officers, psychologists, information analysts, and victims are working together to end violence in Honduras.