SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – While some Republican lawmakers have blamed the humanitarian crisis on President Barack Obama's push for immigration reform, his administration has blamed it on greedy human traffickers in Central America.
A Local 10 News investigation in Honduras' San Pedro Sula where most of the children are coming from confirmed the allegations. Several residents of San Pedro Sula recently claimed "Coyotes" have been saying that "now is a good time to send your kids." Immigration authorities reported that so far this year out of the 61,581 unaccompanied children --17,582 were from Honduras. It's a jump from the 6,747 in 2013, 2,997 in 2012 and 974 in 2011.
Santana Quijada heard the rumor. She said the misinformation was not the only cause of the massive migration of unaccompanied minors into the U.S. The grandmother said the rumor was the match that set the fire. The prevalent violence, impunity, corruption and the grim economy created the flammable environment.
"They [smugglers] said there was a permission so kids could cross," Quijada, 65, said. "People got desperate and they got eager and sent to many of them." She lives in one of the most violent neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula -- the most dangerous city in the country that has the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the United Nations.
HONDURAS BORDER | PHOTO SLIDE SHOW
Obama has stepped up deportations. Immigration authorities said Florida is one of the top three states where the children's relatives live. Due to a 2008 law George W. Bush signed to prevent child-trafficking, every case must be dealt with in court. Children who submit the proper documentation and meet the qualifications can be allowed to stay. Experts said it's likely that most will be deported.
Without adding more judges, Miami's immigration court has made the juvenile cases a priority with "rocket dockets" that shorten the two year wait into months.Carmen Zapata, who lives in West Miami-Dade, said she knows families who welcomed their kids and relatives, but are now waiting and hoping it all takes a long time.
Zapata, who is here illegally, said she heard that lawmakers were becoming more amenable to the idea of helping undocumented children. She was referring to Obama's 2012 executive order that allowed qualifying children, who arrived before 2007 to stay and work legally in a path to legalization.
"When I came from Honduras in 2000 there wasn't any hope," Zapata said in Spanish. "Now that the kids are getting their permits to work and go to school, we have hope. I think that hope turned into gossip at some point and people just took the risk."
HONDURAN FORCES | PHOTO SLIDE SHOW
The risk has not paid off for many. Mexican and U.S. authorities have already been returning some children to Honduras. Some of the kids were apprehended in Mexico before reaching the border. Others have turned themselves in to authorities due to exhaustion, or because they have run out of money.
Honduras' military police and an elite unit were working to keep children from crossing the border to Guatemala. U.S. authorities have been providing them with training and funding. To educate the public, the Honduran government launched a campaign in July.
IMMIGRATION CRISIS | GOVERNMENT CAMPAIGN
"There's no permission that's what I heard ... Now I realize that they are returning them back to Honduras," Quijada said.
Knowing the truth didn't change Quijada's family plan to pay human traffickers $4,000 to take her 12-year-old grandson to the U.S. He wants to be reunited with his mom and siblings, who live in Kentucky. Authorities in both the U.S. and Honduras fear that a portion of the millions of dollars human traffickers have earned is going to be invested on furthering criminal activity.
While anti-immigration activists in Texas protest about a lack of resources, Quijada and many others in Honduras say that by continuing the children's deportations the Obama administration is showing a lack of compassion.
"I ask myself, 'why don't they just leave them there?' It's hard to understand they do that, after that very tough trip. It is hard to get there ... They are already there so I hope they support us, so they are not sent back here because life here is tough."
CRIME AND VIOLENCE
Honduras has the world's highest murder rate -- exceeding Syria and Afghanistan. Christian, 12, knows that a journey to the United States alone is like playing Russian roulette. But staying in Honduras may be just as dangerous. Learn more > >