Illegal immigrants aboard La Bestia, a notorious Mexican cargo train
Illegal immigration to the United States is both bane and blessing for Honduras.
A young acquaintance of my boss is currently experiencing the bane side of things, locked up in a prison in Tyler, Texas after she got caught last month trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Prison officials are telling her she'll be held in jail for two or three months as punishment, then shipped back to Honduras along with the 2,500 or so other illegals from the country who are deported from the States every month.
The blessing is, of course, the money. An estimated 600,000 Hondurans live and work illegally in the U.S., and the money they send home to their impoverished families accounts for a staggering 20 per cent of the country's GDP.
What would Honduras do without the thousands of brave souls willing to risk everything in an attempt for a better life? Having to leave family and friends behind while dodging countless dangers is hardly the solution that anyone would want for a country, but Honduras would have significantly more problems than it already has were it not for those tough citizens who put their lives on the line for a better life for their loved ones.
The stories are legion here about the journey, what with so many people having given it a try (and often more than once). The research has found that it's rarely the poorest of the poor who make the trip, seeing as that group can't afford even the most basic amenities to ease the hardships that await. The ones who tend to make it are those who can come up with $5,000 for an experienced coyote - one who know the safest routes, the best hotels for hiding from the authorities, and the size of the bribe that might be required to get a person out of a tight spot.
The more money a person has, the easier the trip. One woman made the entire journey in a mere six days, travelling the final leg first with a Mexican police escort and then with U.S. police. Everybody's got their price, apparently.
Others tell of horrendous weeks or even months trying to get to the U.S. Some run out of food and water. Others get attacked by gangs in Mexico who prey on the travellers. Some endure the Mexican cargo train they call La Bestia, infamous for its many dangers and its tendency to leave travellers wounded and maimed from a perilous ride on the roof. One young fellow managed to survive the challenging swim through a small hole in the underwater fence that divides the Mexican and U.S. shores of the Rio Grande, only to discover on the other side that his best friend who'd been right behind him had drowned.
And far too many people simply vanish, leaving their families to wonder forever more. The woman who owns a little restaurant in our neighbourhood hasn't heard from her son since he left for the U.S. six years ago. The family of the young woman who recently turned up in a Texas prison initially thought she'd died as well, as the group she was with had left her behind after she was unable to keep up.
My Chinese grandfather came to Canada more than a century ago pretending to be somebody's adopted son, a favourite strategy at the time for Chinese immigrants who never would have gotten into the country without that little lie. Perhaps that explains why I've always thought highly of illegal immigrants.
Catch the right-wing political news on the subject and you'd think they were talking about lazy cheaters who just want an easy ride. The truth is that only the most motivated, the most prepared, the most resourceful people would even consider trying to enter a country like the U.S. illegally.
To want a better life for your family - how can you fault a person for that? Illegal immigrants make tremendous personal sacrifices. They do jobs that others won't do. They fuel the economy of developed countries, even while those same countries work very, very hard to make life miserable for them.
We talk a good game about "feeling" for people trapped in poor countries, but clearly like it best when they stay home and settle for our little aid handouts. We really ought to be celebrating the courage, resilience and adaptability of those who strike out on an uncertain, life-threatening journey with no idea whether it's going to turn out to be the best thing they've ever done for their family or a tragic and costly mistake.
Let them come. They make this world a better place.