Honduran revolving door migrants ready to return to US

San Pedro Sula (Honduras) (AFP) –


Victor Aguilera tried to get into the United States by fair means or foul, but like thousands before him, he was caught and deported back to the Honduran city he came from.

As he arrived, shackled hand and foot, in San Pedro Sula aboard a US government-chartered plane, hundreds of hopeful compatriots were setting out in a caravan in the opposite direction.

These are Honduras' revolving door migrants. And there are thousands of them, ready to risk detention in the US rather than endure the deadly stranglehold of gang violence in their impoverished Central American country.

"I'm going to stay for a couple of days and then I'm going to head back," 38-year-old Aguilera told AFP, dressed in a white shirt and jeans, a sweatshirt tied around his waist.

Aguilera had stepped off a plane chartered by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency at San Pedro Sula airport, 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of the capital Tegucigalpa. Planeloads of deportees land here every day, many of them already thinking about how to go back.

While the deportees trudge across the airport tarmac, between 300 and 400 Hondurans are setting out daily on their own fraught journey, crossing into Guatemala on the first waypoint on the road to the United States.

"This year up to March 31 we registered the return of 19,605 Hondurans," said Liz Medrano, head of the General Directorate of the Protection of Honduran Migrants.

- Saturated system -

Honduran migration expert Ricardo Puerta says the United States' immigration system has collapsed.

"Institutionalized immigration is currently saturated in the United States," he said. "The raids they are making on the border have reached a limit."

He said the 678 detention centers for undocumented migrants in the United States -- including military bases -- are full and the courts are dealing with a backlog of 1.8 million cases.

Traffickers who help migrants cross the border have refined their tactics, keeping up pressure on US border authorities by bringing migrants across singly or in small groups.

Aguilera travelled in one such group, leaving his town in northern Honduras with his wife and three-year-old daughter in September of last year.

From the tough Choloma area on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, Aguilera said he had to flee from gangs. "I had to run out of Sula."

"My wife and daughter won their case. They allowed them aslyum, but as for me, I got deported," said Aguilera, with a neatly trimmed beard and dark glasses.

"I fought my case hard but I didn't win."

Instead, he spent time in detention where he said he and other migrants were mistreated.

Undaunted, Aguilera said he will go back to the United States as soon as he can because, he said, living in Honduras has become impossible.

"I'm going to go back because here you live waiting for someone to come and kill you. Sometimes you don't know who is threatening you -- whether it's the gangs or the police."

- Revolving door -

Mario Castillo, 48, arrived back on the same flight as Aguilera. He was captured by US immigration officers during his second attempt to get back to Houston, Texas, where he previously lived for 15 years.

"They had me in a cooler for 15 days. They treated us as if we weren't humans -- we were sleeping on a dirty floor, everyone walking on top of one another," said Castillo.

While Aguilera and Castillo were arriving back as deportees, 19-year-old Carlos Danilo Carbajal and Roger Quintanilla were joining around a thousand people in San Pedro Sula and heading the other way.

"In Honduras there's a big crisis and a lot of crime, but the politicians only look after themselves," said Carbajal.

Opportunities in Honduras are scant, he said, and he had only been able to find occasional work as an assistant in a mechanical workshop in the Caribbean port city of Trujillo.

"I don't know how to find work and when there is work it's only temporary," he said.

Quintanilla said he had to get out after saying no to the powerful local 18 Gang when it tried to recruit him. He managed to enter the United States last month but was captured and spent 31 days locked up before being deported.

"The border patrol in El Paso, Texas, grabbed eight of us in the middle of a mountain. We are going to try again."