The Realities of Illegal Immigration Into and Out of Honduras

By Kausha Luna on September 28, 2016

An interview with the director of Honduras' National Institute for Migration (INM), Carolina Menjívar, provides an insight into the country's immigration flows and system.

The INM, created in 2014, is the agency responsible for controlling and regulating migration into and out of Honduras. Menjívar, an attorney, was appointed as director to elevate the status of the INM, given the corruption scandals that plagued the previous immigration agency. That prior agency, the General Migration Directorate, was abolished and its entire staff fired because it was actually facilitating alien smuggling.

Some of the more telling portions of the interview read as follows:

Interviewer: Is it true that any foreigner enters Honduras "as if they owned the place"?

Menjívar: Entered. It was customary, that anyone could enter through the regular points as if they owned the place, but now we can say that only those with the requisites enter, where there's an inspection, customs, or an office...

Interviewer: What is the difference between an African or Asian migrant and a Honduran migrant?

Menjívar: Africans and Asians migrate due to hunger and war, but Hondurans do so for family reunification, and pay between five and eight thousand dollars to reach the United States.

Later in the interview the following questions were addressed:

Interviewer: How many international migrants are detained in Honduras?

Menjívar: Monthly, 470 cross of all nationalities, but it is difficult to estimate how many are crossing and are not detained.

Interviewer: What do you do with detained migrants?

Menjívar: No matter who it is, the Migration Act includes three figures: refuge, deportation, and exclusion.

Interviewer: How many stay in Honduras?

Menjívar: No one is interested in refuge because Honduras is not the destination. They also can’t be deported to their country because there's a Human Rights principle of non-refoulement, especially, if they come from countries at war because it would be returning them to death. And exclusion only happens at the moment of detention, at the port of entry, whether ground or air.

Interviewer: So?

Menjívar: They are registered and entered into the database. We give them five days for them to present themselves again to immigration authorities and regularize their situation, but they don't come back, they escape through blind spots, because the ultimate goal is not to stay here.

Interviewer: Aren't you facilitating irregular migration with this procedure?

Menjívar: We are not facilitating irregular migration. It is government policy to treat them well and apply law. What we can say is that they do no present a security risk for Honduras. We also can't keep them in detention, we don't have that authority.

Interviewer: Does this policy apply to anyone?

Menjívar: No. We are deporting Colombians, Mexicans, and Ecuadorians, it is protocol, and it's not that we invent it; we review each case very well.

Interviewer: What will with the ones that do not return(to report back to INM)?

Menjívar: Perhaps coyotes await them; there is a Central American smuggling network, recently a network was dismantled because the idea is to penalize the criminal not the migrant. In the end, the victim is the irregular migrant.

Interviewer: Do terrorists "slip" through?

Menjívar: We work with the American Embassy for persons who are suspected terrorists. We are open to them sending inspectors, their controls, to help us prevent. Any embassy can do the same. To date the only (instance of such cooperation) has been the Syrian citizens that tried to enter through an irregular point of entry. They came from other countries with passports and were detected here.

Interviewer: How many foreigners are detained in Honduras?

Menjívar: Between 2010 to date, more than 34,000, the majority Cubans, Haitians, Colombians, and Ecuadorians. From Africa, some 3,374 (from Congo, Ghana, and Senegal). And some 256 from Asia, particularly from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. In total, well, we're talking about more than 40 [thousand] irregular migrants.

Interviewer: Why call them irregular migrants if everyone else calls them illegals?

Menjívar: The concept of illegal migration is discriminative, the transit is irregular but the migrant is a person that comes from a country and does not carry the document. That's the difference, that is what is irregular, doing it through a blind spot and without papers.

The interview highlights three points about illegal immigration into and out of Honduras. Illegal aliens moving through Honduras are not interested in finding a place of refuge; their aim is to reach the United States. Similarly, Hondurans leaving their country are not coming to the United States to find refuge but to work and join relatives. Finally, Honduras's weak immigration enforcement and policies allow for such flows to continue. These issues should be of concern to the United States, especially as it tries to decide the future of its own immigration enforcement and policies.