I’m a US Citizen Living in Honduras. Here’s What I Think About the Caravan.

By Jennifer Zilly Canales Published on December 3, 2018

I am a U.S. citizen married to a Honduran. Since we said our vows five years ago, we have parented 11 orphaned and abandoned children and teens in this third-world country in response to God’s call on our lives. Seven still live with us and call us Mom and Dad. We intentionally live without air-conditioning, television, high-speed internet and without a washing machine or dishwasher. The cinderblock home we inhabit on the outskirts of our little rural Honduran town is less than half the size of the home in which I grew up in the Texas suburbs.

I am not involved in politics but would like to present to you a new perspective in regards to the current immigration crisis based on our daily life and experiences on the northern coast of Honduras. I speak fluent Spanish and live alongside Hondurans every day in the workplace, in the local community and in the most intimate corners of my own home. Although I will never be able to change the color of my skin or re-write my cultural history, I do know and love the Honduran people and have lived in this culture my entire adult life.

Life in Honduras

As many are aware of the press covering of the current drama of the large caravans of Hondurans and other Central Americans parading north to the U.S. border, many of us here in Honduras (on the other end of the equation) are deeply troubled as this wrong mindset affects many who are in our area. I personally feel very uncomfortable about the chaos many of the uneducated immigrants will thrust upon the United States. And the way in which they have forsaken international laws and police barricades cannot be justified.

Some are indeed refugees seeking legitimate asylum. But others are simply fleeing generally difficult (but not dire) conditions, or have simply chosen what seems to be the easier route of escape. It is not impossible to forge a humble living in Honduras (over 9 million Hondurans survive in this culture every day), although it is true that much corruption, lack of opportunities and violence abound. There are very heavy “war taxes” that gangs place on local businesses, making it very difficult for many to earn an honest living. If you don’t pay the demanded rate each month, your life may be taken.

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Many dignified Hondurans work the same professional jobs as Americans and earn about a tenth of what an American earns. That was my experience as a college graduate in the first job I had in Honduras as a bilingual elementary-school teacher. I worked 8-10 hours per day, 5 days per week and earned the equivalent of $330 per month. Many Hondurans live off a similar salary (or less). That kind of budget requires almost all common luxuries to be forsaken — but one can indeed survive.

In regards to unpunished violence, my husband’s brother was shot dead point-blank two years ago and no police action was taken even after filing several reports with eye witnesses. And three years ago, my husband was kidnapped and brutally beaten by local gang lords only to confront similar apathy from the authorities once he escaped.

When cattle thieves stole and killed our two milking cows last year, I walked down the gravel road to the local police station only for the policeman to shrug and tell me that that type of crime is to be expected. No action was taken to investigate or punish the crime.

Honduran Youth

We who are on the frontlines in Honduras have offered high-quality free education and character formation in the Living Waters Ranch school we operate out of our rural homestead to over 100 at-risk Honduran youth in the past five years. More than half have walked out because they admittedly had no interest in studying or preparing for the future. This type of apathetic attitude is common among youth in our area.

They are now vagabonds in our rural neighborhood, zipping up and down gravel roads on their bikes and falling into the traps that drugs, petty crime and sexual promiscuity present. Many of them decided to go no further than a second- or sixth-grade education despite our repeated attempts to visit them in their homes, counsel their parents and encourage them to seek God with their lives.

Many of these rogue teens — whom we know and love personally — seem to have enough money to buy junk food and show off a nice cell phone, but there are supposedly no funds for the important things in life. These are oftentimes (but by no means always) the same people who wish to run off to the United States because Honduras doesn’t have any opportunities. They were given open doors and even when they were pleaded to walk through them, they decided not to.

The Caravans’ Effect

Just two weeks ago, a single father who had his three children in our school suddenly decided to withdraw them from our program and join the illegal caravan in hopes of a better future. A respected friend of ours informed us that his children appeared on the news about a week ago as now being held in the Honduran capital seven hours away from where we live, where they will now be placed in an orphanage (while Dad continues marching onward to the United States). Is this the better life he was hoping to forge for his children?

There are many opposing views on the immigration crisis, but we respectfully stand firm in our belief that laws and protocols should be respected.

To explain the situation further, several days ago my husband and two of our teen foster daughters, who were driving home around dinnertime, found the intersection of our rural neighborhood filled with close to 200 people all frantically trying to form another caravan to follow after the first. There were people screaming and trying to get more people to abandon their homes as they would gamble everything for their slice of the American Dream. My husband and teen daughters were devastated, as we know too well that many marriages are broken, children abandoned, lies believed and laws broken when people choose this route.

It’s Possible to Live an Honest Life in Honduras

There are many opposing views on the immigration crisis, but we respectfully stand firm in our belief that laws and protocols should be respected. If anyone (from any country) would desire to enter a foreign land, it should be done so with the appropriate paperwork, under specific circumstances and with a collaborative attitude.

We are working very hard on our end to inform our students and their families of the harshness of the trip through Mexico and the reality of what will most likely wait for them if they even make it across the border. Our desire is to offer opportunities — educational, employment and in Christian discipleship — right here in Honduras. To teach this generation how to live a dignified lifestyle and make productive choices here.

Honduras is in desperate need of reform. But that does not mean that the solution is for Hondurans to flee the country illegally.

I am currently teaching an intensive 5-week Geography class that the majority of our 40-plus students and teachers participate in as we seek to bust many myths about illegal immigration and convince those under our care that a peaceful, honest life before God and before men is possible right here in Honduras (even if that means forsaking many modern luxuries). Many of our teenage students have been very surprised by the information and photos presented in this class, and we are excited that many (possibly all) are being convinced to stay in Honduras rather than chase after an illusion (and an illegal illusion at that).

I paid one in-depth visit last week to a local mother who was on the brink of being swept off into another immigrant caravan, and I have on my to-do list another visit I would like to pay to a dear neighbor of ours who is likewise considering leaving amid the frenzy.

What About the Hondurans Who Stay?

Let us consider this perspective amidst much political confusion and potential anger between opposing parties: Honduras is in desperate need of reform and an effective judicial system as it is overwhelmingly true that injustice and violence reign. But that does not mean that the solution is for Hondurans to flee the country illegally.

If the United States accepts the several thousand immigrants in the caravan, there are still over 9 million Hondurans living in what those who have fled claim to be unbearable circumstances on Honduran soil. What good can be brought about by extending help to a very small percentage who present themselves as refugees unless wide-scale change will be brought about by and for the masses who have stayed behind?

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