Those squeezing into the narrow seats on the Boeing 737 flight are not on their way to Honduras’ famed island of Utila for scuba diving.
They’re being deported.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security returns up to 200 Honduran nationals a day to the Central American nation, according to a top Honduran diplomat.
“We have a plane per day, sometimes two per day,” said Arturo Corrales, a former foreign minister. “Sometimes 200 people.”
Corrales was appointed this month to serve as a special envoy to the United States. He is charged with improving ties with the United States as the two countries work together to stabilize the Central American region and reduce the surge of migrants to the north.
While some nations refuse to accept deported individuals, Honduras accepts thousands each month. It’s just one way the government is trying to show the United States that it’s dedicated to working on improving local conditions. But when asked about whether some of those deported face life-threatening dangers upon their return, Corrales was noncommittal.
“This is something that we’re putting together,” Corrales said. “It’s working. It’s not at the best level yet. But it’s moving forward.”
It’s a message that Corrales has delivered several times since starting his new job, and plans to continue delivering over and over again to the Obama administration, State Department, Congress and anyone who will listen as he seeks to build financial, technological and educational support for his country.
When asked about Corrales, the U.S. Department of State cited the U.S. efforts already underway in the region.
“Our work with the Honduran government on the U.S. strategy for engagement in Central America is ongoing, and we expect it to continue,” a spokesman said.
We have a plane per day, sometimes two per day. Arturo Corrallos, a former foreign minister
The administration worked with Congress to secure $750 million to help Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala fight poverty and violence.
The three nations have become some of the most violent in the world. Each is in the top 10 for homicide rates, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The Obama administration has recognized the growing violence and taken steps to ease the asylum process for Central Americans. But the administration has been criticized for focusing more on stopping and returning migrants than on protecting them from violence in their homelands.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the deportations of Central Americans would continue “as long we have border security and as long as our borders are not open borders.”
Last year, 32 percent of U.S. deportations were to the region, including 33,000 people deported to Guatemala, 21,000 to El Salvador and 20,000 to Honduras.
Meanwhile, a proposal to expand refugee centers in Central America, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry in January, hasn’t resulted in any refugees coming to the United States. A proposed expansion of the United States’ 2-year-old Central American Minors Program has seen only 267 people admitted. The government has received 9,500 applications.
Corrales said the system was not perfect, but he described the two countries as being partners who need to work together. His role, he said, is to show the United States that Honduras is ready and willing to do its part.
“Yes, in Honduras we did have a lot of problems, but we’re facing them with our own resources and we’re having an improvement every day,” Corrales said. “We’re not saying that we’re not going to have issues anymore. What we’re saying is we’re putting together a system that is taking care of those issues.”