Her tears are heavy as they roll down her cheeks. She wipes away the tears from one eye as more tears spring from the other like a river of sorrow.
Estefany is the first of 127 migrants to be deported to Honduras today. She is one of the 920 that are sent back every year.
Confused, she looks all around her and fearfully hugs her body hard. She sits quietly; she seems to be talking to herself. She definitely does not want to return to Honduras.
After two years of living in the state of Georgia, 19 year-old Estefany was detained by the feared ICE agency in mid-December. Her last Christmas in the country was spent in a U.S. detention center.
Her few belongings, like those of the other migrants, are stuffed in a red sack made to carry oranges. Moments before, a group of volunteers from the Attention Center for Returned Migrants (CAMR) brought the sacks out to return them to their owners, calling out each name to claim the meager belongings.
While the migrants unpack their sacks, the volunteers call them up one by one to hand them their identification documents, or in some cases, the birth certificates that have been processed by CAMR. The mostly volunteer staff at the Center offers the deportees coffee and gives them a little money to buy a bus ticket home. Many migrants decide to try their luck again and continue their journey to the United States because attempting to return to their own neighborhoods would mean death.
Outside the center, some families wait anxiously for their sons or daughters, husbands, brothers or parents to exit. When they are reunited with their loved one, they cry, they hug, they kiss. But for most people coming out of the center, no one is waiting for them.
Some of the deportees were caught while attempting to cross the U.S. border and were thwarted in their attempt to reach the much sought-after American dream. This, however, was not the case for Allan Rosales, one of the many in today’s group of deportees.
He reported to the ICE office in Atlanta and was detained immediately. Allan was only sixteen in 2014 when he entered the United States by way of the international bridge in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. A coyote brought him from La Ceiba, Honduras, to the U.S. border for seven thousand dollars. There the coyote left him to walk across the bridge where he would pass through the immigration checkpoint. Rosales was seeking asylum because his life was in danger in his country and his family was trying to save him from being murdered.
In October of 2015, Allan reported to the immigration office. He did not know that a deportation order for him had already been processed. Immigration officers detained him on the spot. He was deported, and at 2:00 pm Allan’s plane touched down in San Pedro Sula, known as the most violent city in the world although the Honduran government claims otherwise.
Allan is 18 now, and he misses his classmates from Berkmar High School. Upon his arrival in San Pedro Sula he borrows a cell phone and calls his aunt to tell his mother that he’s back in Honduras. When he hangs up, he dries his tears and says, “I have to get back because I was working hard in school and I don’t want to lose the academic year.”
Return to Uncertainty
“Welcome Tulito—we’re glad you’re here”, it says on the poster. Rosario and her husband stand outside the Center to greet their nephew, who spent twenty years living up north.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him, we’ve only seen him in photos,” they say, leaving the CAMR. His aunt and uncle recognized Tulito instantly and hugged him. They excitedly showed him their welcome sign, while taxi drives drove in circles around the other migrants, offering them rides to their old neighborhoods or to the central bus station.
Most deportees are between the ages of 18 and 28. They are young people who flee violence looking for a better future by immigrating north. “This year we anticipate that the number of deportations will increase,” says Geraldine Garay, one of the coordinators for the Attention Center for Returned Migrants.
It is five o’clock one cloudy evening in San Pedro Sula. The Center winds up its daily activities. Only empty chairs are left inside, that tomorrow will be filled with new deportees. And so the endless story of deportation continues.
Rubén Figueroa is an activist and human rights advocate and coordinator for the South-Southeast Mesoamerican Migrant Movement. He is currently researching conditions for returning migrants in Honduras.
Translation: Allana Noyes
Editor: Laura Carlsen