SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras–
Celina Velasquez doesn’t feel safe in her home.
The 29-year-old mother of three, who lives in a one-story house off a dirt road on the outskirts of town, fears the man who almost killed her father is still out to get her. The gunman, who shot her father in the head on June 30, leaving him permanently crippled and blind, knows Velasquez can identify him and regularly sends other henchmen to prowl outsider her house menacingly.
Velasquez tried to flee the threat by escaping to the U.S. in July with her 8-year-old daughter Alison. But they were quickly apprehended and sent back home. Now she spends her days holed up at home, afraid to go outside.
“Since I came back I haven’t left the house. I spend all my time here and I don’t know how to start over. I don’t know what to do,” Velasquez said.
Celina Velasquez , 29, plays with her son in San Pedro Sula, Honduras after being deported from the United States. (Photo by Encarni Pindado.)
Velasquez says she’s saving up to pay a coyote to smuggle her back to the U.S. again. “I want to try again,” she says. “I can’t stay here.”
Her first attempt to sneak across the border was expensive, dangerous and ill-informed. She paid a smuggler $6,500 to take her and her daughter to Texas. Their final destination was New York City, where her brother lives. But they were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol after Velasquez turned herself in to officials, acting on bad information that doing so would lead to reunification with her brother in New York.
“They had told me that when we got there they would call my brother and that they would send me to where he was at and that I just had to buy the ticket. But it was different,” Velasquez said.
Instead, Velasquez and her daughter were taken to detention centers in Texas and New Mexico. She says she was never given an opportunity to plead her case to an immigration judge.
“I never had a chance to talk to a lawyer. They told us we didn’t have a right to anything because we were criminals,” she said.
ICE officials told Fusion that Velasquez never requested a lawyer.
Velasquez acknowledges that’s true, but says she felt confused and intimidated by federal immigration officials.
Advocacy groups who work with migrants in the US say that’s common.
“That’s consistent with what we’ve been hearing, that there isn’t true due process happening with these families at all and they are not necessarily being allowed to claim what they have a right to claim,” said Megan McKenna, Advocacy Director with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a nonprofit which finds pro bono representation for unaccompanied children.
In the detention centers Velasquez says she met other young Central American migrants who were trying to escape the gang violence or seek for work. Many were devastated when they realized that they would be deported back home.
“The truth is that it’s the end. All your dreams, all your illusions, are gone. People cry because they don’t want to go back home. Because they’re going back to what they were running from,” she said.
In late July, Velasquez and her daughter were among 30 Honduran deportees flown back to San Pedro Sula.
Hondurans recently deported from the United States take a bus from the
Center of the Returned Migrants at the airport to the bus station in San Pedro Sula. (Photo by Encarni Pindado)
Velasquez’s story is similar to that of tens of thousands of other Central American migrants escaping violence and poverty in their home countries. Since last October, 62,856 Central American children have been detained at the along the southern U.S. border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Most come from the San Pedro Sula region than anywhere else, which has the notorious distinction of being the world’s murder capital, with a homicide rate of 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to U.N. statistics from 2013.
Between January and May of this year, U.S. Border Patrol apprehended more than 2,200 unaccompanied minors from San Pedro Sula, according to a Pew Research study. That’s 5 percent of all children apprehended along the U.S. border since Oct. 1. Honduras is also home to some of the poorest migrants from Central America, where an estimated 30 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.
The Obama administration is considering a plan that would provide legal status, to at least a few hundred youths from Honduras. But Velasquez and others aren’t waiting for U.S. immigration reform to solve their problems.
“People are running away from fear of getting killed,” she said. “They come back and they later turn up dead; there’s no justice for them.”
That’s why she’s planning to make another northward push.
“This time I am more confident and I will have to be more careful. I won’t turn myself into immigration, I will try to hide,” she says.
Correspondent: Dan Lieberman
Producers: Roberto Daza and Encarni Pindado, edited by Ingrid Rojas