Monday, August 26, 2013

La Bestia's victims and the desperate quest to reach North America

I’ve written about how desperate Hondurans are to make it to North America, about the risks they take, including riding La Bestia, a freight line through Mexico.
Early yesterday morning, the train derailed. The stories are still developing, but people died, were maimed and are missing. The papers say about 250 Hondurans among the hundreds riding on top and between the freight cars. One man quoted said the people who died had tied themselves to the train for safety, and couldn’t jump during the slow-motion wreck.
None of this will slow the hundreds of Hondurans who leave every day to try to get to the U.S. 
The trip was already known to be hellish. Robbery, rape and kidnapping are common along the train route (especially on the train). Many migrants are poor, and end up walking for days with no food.
And even if the migrants reach the U.S., chances of getting in are slim.
Yet the U.S. Immigration Service estimates 105,000 Hondurans set out for the U.S. each year. The U.S. Border Patrol arrests about 26,000 a year and an unknown number don’t make it that far. About 600 Hondurans a week are flown back to San Pedro Sula. Many turn around and start the journey again. (Others are recruited to work in the call-centre industry here, as they have reasonable English skills.)
A long way, I noted in a recent blog post, from the Statue of Liberty’s “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free.” Or from my grandparents’ ability to move to Canada in search of better opportunity than they had back in England.
Canada doesn’t figure as much in migrant dreams, mostly because it’s just too far away and unknown.
But a lot of Hondurans I meet are keen to work there, and ask about the possibility. (Slim, I have to say. There are about 1,200 Hondurans in Canada on two-year visas under the temporary foreign worker program.)
Last month, predatory Honduran scum exploited dreams of an opportunity in Canada, promising some 800 people in our region jobs and transportation if they were paid $500. The desperately hopeful Hondurans borrowed, sold possessions risked everything. When they showed up on the appointed day for the buses to the airport, the scammers were gone. 
Remittances from Hondurans working abroad - mostly in the U.S.,  mostly illegal - were $1.5 billion for the first half of this year. 
That’s almost 17 per cent of Honduras’ GDP. If the money stopped flowing, per-capita GDP per capita would fall from $2,260 to $1,890. (GDP per capita in Canada is just over $50,000.) 
The money sent home keeps families afloat, lets them buy a little land to farm, provides the stake for starting a small business. And the experience allows migrants to return with a new perspective and skills that can transform communities.
The Canadian arguments about immigration and temporary workers are legitimate. 
But people are literally dying for the chance to spend even a few years in North America. Allowing a few thousand Hondurans to work in Canada could make a great difference for them, and the country, at a manageable cost.

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