Central American migrants hope Biden will support American Dream

La Lima (Honduras) (AFP) –


Emerson Lopez sells bananas on the side of a dusty road in northern Honduras -- but soon he is going to try his luck chasing the American Dream.

He is hoping the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will be more welcoming to migrants than his predecessor Donald Trump.

Either way, he says he has no future in Honduras, where two hurricanes in November blew off the roof at the family home he shares with his parents and four siblings.

"We hope that will change and we'll benefit" from Biden's arrival, the 18-year-old told AFP.

Biden has promised "a fair and humane immigration system" and pledged to tackle the root causes of poverty and violence that drive Central American migration to the US by providing aid to the region.

Trump, on the other hand, froze a $750 million aid package agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama -- whose vice president was Biden -- and before being elected characterized immigrants from Mexico as "rapists" who were "bringing drugs" and other criminal activity with them.

Before the hurricanes, the coronavirus ended Lopez's hopes of earning a degree in information technology.

His town of La Lima, 110 miles (180 kilometers) north of the capital Tegucigalpa, still shows the scars of the destruction wrought by Eta and Iota when they ripped through the Sula Valley, the country's industrial heartland and economic motor.

The government says the two hurricanes and coronavirus cost the country, one of the poorest in Latin America, some five billion dollars.

"I haven't found work and how could I without experience and given I'm too young?" said Lopez.

A call went out on social media to form a new caravan, like the ones that so angered Trump, on January 15 -- just five days before Biden's inauguration.

But Lopez won't be joining it.

"If it goes well, most of us here will decide to go later," said Lopez.

- Difficulties mounting -

His neighbor Martha Saldivar is another ready to tackle the long journey, although not this time.

"We've heard that Biden will take down the wall," said the 51-year-old, whose home also lacks a roof.

"But I won't leave with this caravan because we don't know the people."

Since October 2018 more than 10 migrant caravans have been formed in Honduras, including at least four with more than 3,000 people.

But all of them floundered at the US border with Mexico. And the route is getting tougher.

Guatemala's government has warned that anyone wanting to pass through its territory must show a negative coronavirus test and have their papers in order.

Mexico's consulate in Honduras's second largest town, San Pedro Sula, from where caravans usually leave, warned that its government "does not encourage and will not allow the illegal entry of caravans."

More than a million Hondurans have fled poverty and violence with the majority now living in the US.

Last year they sent home to their families a record of almost $6 billion in remittances -- worth just over 20 percent of the country's GDP.

Money transfers by emigrants also hit a record in Guatemala in 2020 of more than $11.3 billion, or 14 percent of GDP.

In El Salvador, family members of the 2.5 million immigrants living in the US received $5.6 billion, some 16 percent of the country's GDP.

Cecilia Arevalo, 54, lives in California but is visiting family in a suburb of El Salvador's capital San Salvador.

She is hoping for "a change in migration laws with Biden, and that they're more humane."

That aspiration is shared by Mexican Cristian Panameno, a 42-year-old mechanic living just outside San Salvador.

He has already been expelled once from the US but has saved up some money to try again.

"I think with this new president things will change for undocumented migrants," he said.

"If I make it to the US I hope they'll give me the opportunity to work."

They may have to wait a while, though, as Biden has already admitted he will have to wait at least six months to roll back Trump's southern border security policies.