New Orleans When you drive near the river in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and look down along the banks, you can still see signs of the hurricane that swept through the city and the country making tens of thousands homeless almost twenty years ago in 1999. In my first trips to the city as we organized ACORN there, I could still see signs of current encampments of squatters. Many things in San Pedro Sula, the industrial and maquila heart of Honduras, have changed in recent decades but the footprint of the hurricane’s devastation is still easy to follow there.
It is also easy to follow in the United States. New Orleans was the city that became destination and then home to more Hondurans than any other in the United States. I can often share stories with local business people and construction workers in my neighborhood as we tell stories of Jesus Maria, Choloma, and other working-class suburbs outside of San Pedro Sula or places near Tegucigalpa where ACORN also has numerous chapters and thousands of members. An intern working with us during the spring semester from Tulane shared the fact that her father was from San Pedro Sula.
There have been many changes in Honduras in recent years. Looking past the golipista coup of recent years in the recent election ACORN supported candidates and some of our members were elected as mayors or council members in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa as well as several of the suburbs of San Pedro Sula. We have won potable water in some places. We have gotten agreements to build community centers and pave roads. This is real progress. At the same time our largest campaign, especially in San Pedro Sula, we euphemistically refer to as “security,” but what we really mean is dealing with the violence, crime, gangs, and fear in many of neighborhoods. Particularly difficult is dealing with the collateral damage of families broken apart and sending children to the border at the cost of $4 to 5000 US dollars, and then sometimes have to raise additional money when they are turned back and sent home.
The Trump administration has already ended temporary protected status or TPS as it is called for more than 300,000 people legally in the United States because of disasters, war, and other issues. TPS has been terminated for Salvadorans, Haitians, Nepalese, and Nicaraguans already. Now more than 80,000 Hondurans have heard that TPS is ending for them as well. According to the Times the Center for Migration Studies says that Honduras with TPS “have 53,500 American-born children; 85% participate in the labor force, compared with 63% of the overall US population, and nearly 20% have mortgages.” This doesn’t count the number of families in Honduras who depend on remittances from their US relatives to provide income stability. They have until January 2020, the usual 18 months that others were given to get their affairs together and return to Honduras.
As I think about this I am preparing for a call with ACORN’s Honduran organizers to plan for the impact of families returning and in-country, but even while doing so, I have to wonder at a policy that is guaranteed no matter what the administration claims to create a whole new class of less than legal immigrants in the United States, who have been legal in the country and embedded in their communities and will now find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place somewhere between home and underground.
This won’t end well.