The caravan of thousands of Hondurans that migrated from the city of San Pedro Sula Oct. 12 has rapidly become a topic of political debate both in Honduras and in the United States, causing division and concern. Nonetheless, the fact that thousands of people are willing to leave their homes to cross two countries by foot bears witness to a deeper human crisis that cannot be ignored.
In dialogue with Auxiliary Bishop of Denver Jorge Rodriguez and other Honduran witnesses, the Denver Catholic sought to uncover the human reality of many of these immigrants and look at the crisis from a Christian perspective.
“As Christians, we follow the teachings of Jesus and his commandment to love. This caravan of men, women and children we see in the news and hear about on the radio — regardless of the many factors that may have been involved in the planning and eventual political manipulation of the event — are human beings fleeing from a tragedy of poverty, violence, insecurity and a lack of future,” Bishop Rodriguez assured.
Regarding interpretations made only for political or economic purposes, which ignore the reality of the factors that led many of these immigrants to leave their country, Bishop Rodriguez said: “It pains me to see how a human tragedy of this size is used for political [means] by parties, for heartless rhetoric, for sensationalism by social mass media and even for exploitation and human trafficking, instead of working together to reach a solution.”
Behind the crowd
Various reasons led to the massive migration that originated in Honduras and has worked its way through Guatemala and Mexico, from poverty and violence to corruption and political instability, two Honduran sources said.
According to Dynia Maradiaga, student of banking and ﬁnance at Universidad Autónoma de Honduras in the capital Tegucigalpa, political motivations by the resistance against the presidency of Juan Orlando Hernández were behind the organization of the mass migration. She said that Honduran political leaders took advantage of the needs of many people experiencing poverty to send a message to the president after his controversial reelection in December 2017, which many deemed unconstitutional.
Likewise, Honduran chancellor María Dolores Agüero attested to the political goals of resistance groups behind the planning of the migration caravan in a press conference.
This caravan of men, women and children we see in the news and hear about on the radio — regardless of the many factors that may have been involved in the planning and eventual political manipulation of the event — are human beings fleeing from a tragedy of poverty, violence, insecurity and a lack of future.”
“I don’t think most of the migrants in the caravan really know what they got into. Many of them are people from smaller towns who don’t have the best education and were deceived. Many people left convinced they would receive a visa [in the United States],” Maradiaga told the Denver Catholic. “There’s much sorrow and indignation because [these politicians] are using the people.”
“There are also people supporting these caravans, hoping that perhaps this will make the [Honduran] president ﬁnally do something. There are no jobs, and nothing is being done to reduce poverty,” she said.
Furthermore, Sister María Elda Aguilar, member of a Honduran religious institution dedicated to works of charity, education and evangelization, shared that she feels shaken by the cur-rent situation.
“[The mass migration] has left me shocked, not because we don’t know the reality of the situation, but precisely because we do,” she told the Denver Catholic. “Extreme poverty, economic inequality, corruption, lack of opportunities and violence were the greatest factors that led to this event…
“Poverty generates violence… Young people come from large families and are forced to help provide for them. And without education, many get involved in drug trafficking and are either killed or turn into assassins. They’re victims of violence. For that reason, many families ﬂee and look for refuge in other places.”
Sister Aguilar believes the Honduran government should invest more in education so that more opportunities can be generated. This would also acknowledge the human dignity of every person and allow them to better elect political leaders that are good administrators and seek the good beyond their own interests, she said.
Extreme poverty, economic inequality, corruption, lack of opportunities and violence were the greatest factors that led to this event…”
Other than accompanying the migrants in her prayers, the religious sister sees that part of her mission is to guide people in the values of the Gospel, especially the youth, so that they refrain from getting involved in drug trafficking, despite many times being threatened and forced to, and can ﬁnd a future without having to migrate.
The Denver Catholic tried to con-tact various Honduran consulates in the United States and were referred to the Secretary of Foreign Affairs in Honduras, whom we could not reach.
A look at Catholic Social Teaching
Bishop Rodriguez encouraged the faithful to consider the humanity of the immigrants and the reality of the situation when looking at the political implications of the event in light of the Church’s social teaching.
“The ‘caravan’ are our brothers and sisters in search for a future. And as the Gospel asks of us, we have the obligation to help them in as much as we can,” he said, making reference to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you… [for] I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me,’” (Mt 25, 31-46).
According to the Church’s social teaching, both a nation and an immigrant have rights and responsibilities that must be considered.
On one side, “the Church teaches that men have the right — not by concession of a document — but by their human dignity, to immigrate… Migrating out of necessity is a right, not a concession, ” Bishop Rodríguez said, referring to Pope Saint John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, which says: “Every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the conﬁnes of his own State. When there are just reasons in favor of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there.”
On the other side, “the Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good,” the bishop continued, quoting the U.S. and Mexico Catholic Bishop’s letter on immigration “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”
“These teachings complement each other,” the document states. “While the sovereign state may impose reasonable limits on immigration, the common good is not served when the basic human rights of the individual are violated.”
The problem with many laws is that the U.S. immigration system needs a complete reform that harmonizes the respect for human rights, the duty of the nation that welcomes [people] to protect the common good of its citizens, and the legitimate processes to legally obtain the document to migrate to another country and work honestly in it.”
“The United States has the right to control its borders with Mexico, estimating the number of people that the country can accept and help, and at the same time opening its heart to certain urgent situations, many times including matters of life and death, of men and women who ask to gain access to this country,” Bishop Rodriguez said.
“The problem with many laws is that the U.S. immigration system needs a complete reform that harmonizes the respect for human rights, the duty of the nation that welcomes [people] to protect the common good of its citizens, and the legitimate processes to legally obtain the document to migrate to another country and work honestly in it,” he continued.
“As the pope said, we must ‘overcome indifference and put, before our fears, a generous attitude of welcoming towards those who come knocking at our door,’” Bishop Rodriguez concluded. “Let us keep ﬁghting, with the means that the political and social life offer us, for the comprehensive immigration reform the Episcopal Conference is asking for.”
Featured image by Alfredo Estrella | Getty Images