~ by David Agren, Catholic News Service
MEXICO CITY – Fr. Noel Ortiz listened to the frustration of his parishioners in northern Honduras as floods following the twin hurricanes that struck Central America last November wiped out their homes and livelihoods, and government officials provided little assistance for rebuilding.
Many in his parish of garment factory workers in the gang-ridden city of Choloma mused about migrating and jumped at the chance to join caravans leaving the country.
The twin hurricanes compounded the misery of the COVID-19 pandemic, which drove millions to economic despair and left many with a sense of hopelessness as government responses were plagued by ineptitude and corruption.
Two large caravans have departed since Hurricanes Eta and Iota soaked Central America. In January 2021 [the caravans] swelled in size to more that 7,500 travelers. Both caravans were broken up by security forces before reaching Mexico.
But the formation of caravans and the desperation to leave reflect the rough realities of life in the northern triangle countries of Central America: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
“[There’s] a mass exodus of people with [the] illusion of reaching the United States under this new president Biden – with the illusion that he will open the doors to the United States for Central American migrants,” said Franciscan Fr. Gabriel Romero Alamilla, director of Mexico’s southern Tabasco state.
“People are no longer scared of being infected [with COVID 19.] They’re not scared of dying in a pandemic. They’re choosing between dying of hunger or dying without work or dying without land or being massacred – or they’re choosing to search for a destination with a more hopeful future,” Romero said.
Rick Jones, a former migration adviser to Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador, told Catholic New Service, “people figure we’ll face the border and anything else when we get there,” adding, “COVID has led to major corruption in all three countries: El Salvador, Honduras and . People just get desperate at that point.”
President Biden has promised to overhaul U.S. Immigration policy. He has signed a series of executive orders on immigration and started to undo policies implemented by his predecessor. His office has also warned that now is not the time to come to the United States.
“There are positive signs. But it’s cautious optimism for us,” said Jesuit Fr. Ismael Moreno, director of Radio Progreso in Honduras. “We have a good opportunity with the new U.S. administration to open spaces for dialogue that we didn’t have before.”
The Trump administration “cut off foreign aid to Central America, they removed support for the anti-corruption effort…which was actually working, and that sent a message to people. Help is not on the way and your only option is to leave,” Jones said.
“We need to be thinking that development and migration go together. It’s not just about stopping the flow of people,” he said.
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