U.S. Tries To Slow Migrant Flow From Honduras

In an effort to stem the flow of children to the U.S., the State Department is funding media campaigns in Honduras. Cindy Carcamo of the Los Angeles Times talks with NPR's Arun Rath about the tactic.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

And now a view from Central America where the U.S. is trying to stop the flow of migrants North-ward. The U.S. State Department has funded and a U.S. Patrol Tactical Unit has trained an elite police force for the task in Honduras. Los Angeles Times reporter Cindy Carcamo has been reporting on the effort and joins us now from San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Cindy, welcome.

CINDY CARCAMO: Hello.

RATH: First, what exactly is this elite Honduran police force doing to stop children and others from embarking on the dangerous journey to the U.S.?

CARCAMO: Essentially what they're doing is setting up checkpoints asking people for documents, especially mothers with children, trying to verify that the person who is claiming to be the mother is actually the mother. And if the mother is traveling alone with the children, the mother has to have written authorization from the father that the children are allowed to leave the country. And so some of these women don't have these documents. In addition, they don't have, like for instance, a passport. So that's how this unit is stopping these women from going farther North.

RATH: And how effective are these efforts?

CARCAMO: Well, you know, before this unit arrived on June 20, that border there near Ocotepeque was kind of a free-for-all. Really, people just kind of went through with no problem. After this unit arrived, everything clamped down to the point where it was really difficult to find migrants out in the open. And, you know, people are taking now routes that were once used for trafficking of, let's say, contraband coffee or contraband cigarettes to pay without taxes. Now those routes are being used as smuggling areas.

RATH: And can you explain the U.S. role in this? How involved is the U.S. Border Patrol?

CARCAMO: The U.S. State Department is very much involved. They are paying for their uniforms, the SUVs that they drive around in. In addition to that, the U.S. Border Patrol Special Unit - elite unit of BORTAC has come into Honduras to do special training with these guys.

RATH: Now I want to ask about another U.S. funded effort. This is a media campaign launched in Central America this month. Let's listen to an ad produced by the U.S. Border Patrol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

(Spanish spoken.)

RATH: This ad shows a young man writing a letter. He is saying, I already see myself in the USA making a lot of money, and my mom won't have any debt or worries. He leaves - and this is brutal - we then see him lying dead in the desert, presumably of heatstroke or dehydration. Do these kinds of ads change minds?

CARCAMO: Well, you know, I spoke with a monsignor of a Catholic church here, and he said that these sorts of campaigns have run before, and they tell people directly, you shouldn't go because the trek is way too treacherous. And he says that really he is not optimistic at all about it. You know, he says that people have very little hope. And when they hear that there is some hope, they're going to take it. And no matter what you say to them, it's really not going to make an impact. That, really, there needs to be fundamental change in these countries for people to want to stay and not have to leave.

RATH: Can you give us a sense from some of the people that you've talked with there? Just how bad is it, you know, that is making people want to make this journey?

CARCAMO: Just to give you an example, my colleague, Don Bartletti, and I went to one of the areas where a lot of the people are returning on buses from Mexico, people who are caught before they even cross the United States. We spoke with a family. It was a mother and father and three children. They told me that they left because there was this altercation between two gang members in their neighborhood. And one of them knocked on the family's door wanting to be let in because he was trying to escape this other gang member. The father said no way, you are not coming in and shut the door in his face. After that, the gentleman wouldn't leave. He'd go around brandishing a gun, making threats to the family. It got so bad that they ended up abandoning their house with their children and a few neighbors because the threats of violence were so bad.

RATH: Wow.

CARCAMO: Of course they said that the poverty situation is horrible but that the violence is the tipping point for this particular family.

RATH: Cindy Carcamo of the Los Angeles Times. We reached her in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Thank you.

CARCAMO: Thank you.

RATH: You're listening to NPR News.

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