Thousands Of Hondurans May Be Forced To Leave The U.S.
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This week, 57,000 Hondurans living in the U.S. will find out whether they can remain here legally. The Department of Homeland Security renewed their temporary protective status, or TPS, until July. That was the latest of several renewals they were granted after being given TPS following a devastating hurricane in 1998. But it doesn't look like the Trump administration will grant any more extensions given that it has ended the program for other migrants, including Haitians and Nicaraguans. As NPR's Carrie Kahn found out in a recent trip to Honduras, relatives of the TPS recipients are anxious that their biggest source of income is about to dry up.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Deep in the heart of coffee country about two hours west of the capital, the smell of Honduras' biggest roaster wafts through surrounding towns, like tiny La Paz where its fortunes rise and fall with international coffee prices. Here, it's not hard to find someone with relatives in the U.S.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
HAROLD CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Nineteen-year-old Harold Castillo mans the reception desk at one of La Paz's three hotels. He says he has 15 family members in the U.S.
CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "I've got cousins, uncles, aunts - everything," he says. Only one aunt, though, has TPS. She's been there for 22 years and has four U.S.-born children. He says she won't recognize Honduras if she has to come back home.
CASTILLO: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Honduras is too hard these days," he says. The country has been racked with high levels of gang violence, earning it one of the highest murder rates in the world. More than 40 percent of its residents live in extreme poverty, earning about a dollar a day. Nearly 20 percent of Honduras' annual GDP come from relatives sending money back home.
HUGO NOE PINO: That's the principal source of hard currency right now in the country.
KAHN: Hugo Noe Pino is an economist at UNITEC, a private university in Tegucigalpa. He says unemployment is also high, making it extremely difficult for the country to absorb tens of thousands of Hondurans sent home if the TPS program expires.
PINO: Most of them are going to be unemployed, and they will suffer in different ways.
KAHN: Noe Pino says many migrants will come back with new skills, but unfortunately, there just aren't enough new jobs being created. Foreign direct investment has dropped steadily over the past four years, and he says the recent political instability will be a further deterrent to investors.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in Spanish).
KAHN: Last November's controversial presidential elections are still being disputed with regular protests throughout the country, some of which have turned violent and left more than 20 people dead in clashes with police. International observers have called for the elections to be redone due to widespread irregularities detected in the contest. But current President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the declared winner, rejects such calls. And last month, he got a boost from the U.S., which congratulated him on his victory and certified his government is eligible for foreign aid, citing an improvement in its human rights record and corruption.
Lester Ramirez of the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran non-governmental group, says the slight drop in the crime rate has come at a big cost in Honduras. He says President Hernandez has consolidated much power, and it appears that his strong-arm approach is more appealing to the U.S. than transparency or democracy.
LESTER RAMIREZ: Because what the United States doesn't want to have is a problem in their back door, you know, people migrating and having this humanitarian issue we had three years ago.
KAHN: In 2014, tens of thousands of unaccompanied minor children streamed over the border into the U.S., many fleeing Honduras' deadly gang violence. The numbers dropped significantly once President Trump took power, but the number of migrants from Central America has been creeping up in recent months.
CAROLINA VALESQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Back in La Paz in the town's outdoor market, Carolina Valesquez is counting a customer's change at her produce stand. Vendors say sales are way down, mostly due to the political unrest and the poor economy. Valesquez says she's also worried about her brother who lives in Florida. He's been able to work there legally because he's had TPS for nearly 15 years.
VALESQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "It's going to hit us hard if he gets sent back," she says. "He's been the lifeline for our household," she says, which altogether includes nine family members. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, La Paz, Honduras.
(SOUNDBITE OF TUSKEN.'S "BANTHA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.