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Honduran families traumatized by US-imposed separations

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Since being returned to his parents in Honduras, 16-month-old Johan has suffered from stomach problems and sleepwalking. They say the symptoms come from the trauma of being separated as a result of the US government’s “zero tolerance” policy against migrant families who illegally cross the country’s southern border.

Rolando Bueso, 37, and Johan, then aged 10 months, were intercepted by US Border Patrol officers on March 17 after crossing from Mexico into Texas with the help of a people-smuggler, who was paid $6,000. They were soon split up and sent to detention centers in different states, with the infant becoming just one of 2,000 Central American and Mexican children that US authorities forcibly removed from their parents between April 19 and May 31 this year.

Johan had been flown back to the northern city of San Pedro Sula, the main arrival point for deportees from the US.  According to the Honduran government, most Honduran children taken away from their parents inside the US have still not been returned.

Bueso ended up being deported back to Honduras on April 5 but his son remained in US custody until he was finally returned to his family on a flight that landed on July 20.  His parents discovered that Johan, who had grown his first teeth, taken his first steps and spoken his first word “agua” (water) while away, had been badly affected by his months of detention.

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“Everything we give him to eat he has problems with. And he gets up and sleepwalks at night,” said his mother Adalicia, 21, who is eight months pregnant with another child.  She added bitterly that US authorities had sent him back without all his papers, which included his birth certificate and vaccination record.

She was speaking in their modest home in La Libertad, a village north of the capital Tegucigalpa. Johan had been flown back to the northern city of San Pedro Sula, the main arrival point for deportees from the US.  According to the Honduran government, most Honduran children taken away from their parents inside the US have still not been returned.

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The foreign ministry said only 146 children had been reunited with their families as of August 10, and 313 were still being held by US authorities. So far this year, again up to August 10, Honduras has accepted 17,573 Hondurans deported from the United States and 27,334 from Mexico.

Giving up the Dream

Johan “might be traumatized for life,” Bueso said, watching over his son who was playing with a black and white cat. He said the experience had convinced him to give up on trying to illegally enter the United States. The Americans, he said, “are too rough.”

He and his son were caught on his fourth attempt to reach what Central Americans call “the American dream”: a land where work is relatively well paid and easy to come by and violent gangs don’t rule the neighborhoods. Each time, Bueso was deported. Honduran officials admit that many of their citizens risk the voyage into the US with young kids because they believe it enhances their chances of being legally allowed to stay.

Bueso said he won’t try again to reach the US, “but no matter how many walls they put up there are always people who are going to try because they are looking to survive.”

Bueso’s two brothers, who live in the US state of Maryland, had shown that it was possible to make it. But Trump, with his embrace of policies designed to make the US look as inhospitable as possible to migrants and his ambition to build a wall along the border with Mexico, is changing some calculations.

Read more: ‘Mommy is lying’: the travails of migrant kids taken from parents

In Bueso’s case, it was a harsh readjustment. As an assistant on a bus servicing the La Libertad-San Pedro Sula route, he can hope to earn $8 on a good day. In the US, as a laborer, he could expect to make $10 per hour. The small, concrete-block and tin-roofed home he and his wife live in are owned by one of his brothers who live in the US, Adrian, who also supplied the $6,000 to pay the smuggler.

Bueso said he won’t try again to reach the US, “but no matter how many walls they put up there are always people who are going to try because they are looking to survive.” Bueso acknowledged that La Libertad was a relatively peaceful village that didn’t suffer from the corrosive gang violence or drug trafficking that blighted so much of Honduras. But he pointed out that the country’s economic situation was dire something he blamed on government corruption.

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More than a million Hondurans live in the United States. Most of them lack documents to legally stay, yet they represent a pillar holding up Honduras’ economy. Each year $4 billion in remittances are sent to Honduras, accounting for 20 percent of the gross domestic product. This year, thanks to a strong dollar and taut US labor market, remittances have grown nine percent, according to the central bank.

© Agence France-Presse


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