Monday, July 15, 2013

A smarter way to deal with Honduran migrants

The flood of Hondurans trying to make it to the United States has become crazy.
Honduras is opening a diplomatic office in the border city of McAllen, Texas, joining Guatemala and Mexico in trying to deal with the migrants.
Since Oct. 1, the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested 20,000 Hondurans trying to make their way to America to work. That’s more than 70 a day, every day of the week. The new Honduras office will help handle the deportation paperwork (and look after shipping the remains who died trying). The costs for all involved are huge.
The deportees get bundled onto airplanes and flown back to San Pedro Sula at the rate of about 600 a week. Many turn around and start the journey again.
And those are just the people who get caught. Remittances from Hondurans working outside the country - mostly in the U.S., and mostly illegal - were $1.5 billion for the first six months of this year. 
That’s about 16.7 per cent of Honduras’ GDP. If the money stopped flowing, GDP per capita would fall from $2,260 to $1,890. (GDP per capita in Canada is just over $50,000.)
Arguably, the best thing that could be done to improve life for Hondurans in the near term would be to allow a lot more workers into Canada and the U.S., in a much safer way.
The journey now is incredibly dangerous. A main route involves crossing Guatemala and southern Mexico and piling on to La Bestia, a freight train, riding on top of and between cars. Gangs demand $100 from each passenger at stations along the line. People are killed and kidnapped. 
Hondurans keep on making the trek. The U.S. immigration office estimates about 105,000 Hondurans leave for the U.S. annually.
It’s too much to expect open borders. But the U.S. has sure gone a long way from the Statue of Liberty’s “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free.” 
Canada is no more welcoming, as David Suzuki’s recent comments that the country is full indicate, although there are few hundred Hondurans in the country under the temporary foreign worker program.
The money sent back from the U.S. keeps families afloat. Farming families buy land; people fix their houses and start businesses. 
And, based on an anecdotal sampling, my impression is that Hondurans come back from the U.S. with new skills and attitudes that help them start and build businesses. 
That might reflect the kind of people who choose to head off to America in the first place. But it might also show that many Hondurans come home once they have achieved their goals, bringing attributes that strengthen their country.
My four grandparents set off for Canada because they didn’t have opportunities in England. They were welcomed a hundred years ago. Today, they wouldn’t be allowed into the country.
There are legitimate concerns about the effect on the employment market of even foreign workers, legal or not, and worries about criminal elements.
That’s about it in terms of pragmatic issues. People living off the grid aren’t big consumers of government services.
The best solution, or course, is to deal with corruption and crime and poor education and all the barriers that keep Hondurans from building better lives in their own communities.
Meanwhile, coming up with a way to let Hondurans spend a few years in Canada or the U.S. to support their families, accumulate some capital and see new ways of doing things might be a good way to support this country.