The first lady of Honduras discouraged citizens of her country from attempting to cross the US-Mexico border illegally and pledged to address the problems that led them to flee.
"Stay in the country and let's look for solutions to support you," Ana García Carías, the wife of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said on Monday.
García Carías made the comments after touring an immigration processing center in McAllen, Texas, with members of a Honduran government child migrant task force that she leads. The first lady has visited shelters for migrants in the US and Mexico before; this visit marked her first since the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy took effect.
Honduras -- the second-poorest country in Central America, with 60.9% of the population living in poverty -- is one of the top five countries from where undocumented immigrants enter the United States. Of 12.1 million undocumented immigrants living in the US in 2014, 400,000 were from Honduras, according to Department of Homeland Security Statistics published in 2017.
During her visit to Ursula Processing Center, she said she was able to confirm that children are no longer being separated from their parents. From the processing center, families are sent within 72 hours to detention centers in Texas, she said. Or, they are released with electronic monitors on their ankles, she said.
She said she spoke with representatives from US Customs and Border Protection about its plans for processing migrants under the Trump administration's executive order, but she did not provide details. Nor did she elaborate on what she described as a conversation about information-sharing between the US and Honduras about providing consular services for unaccompanied children.
In fiscal year 2017, 40,810 unaccompanied children were referred to the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, 23% of whom were from Honduras.
Widespread gang violence fuels the instability and suffering. Criminals have extorted Hondurans into paying an arbitrary "war tax" for their survival. Those who can't pay often are killed. One man who entered the US from Honduras with his 3-year-old son last week described fleeing such a threat. Another woman who spoke to CNN said gang members threatened to kill her and her son if he did not join them.
García Carías said she spent time with families and unaccompanied minors from Honduras and discussed the reasons that led them to flee. Some said they wished to be reunited with relatives; some sought better economic opportunities than those available in Honduras; some said they fled violence.
García Carías said Honduras' President is committed to fighting those circumstances, and urged families to stay in the country for their children's safety.
"More jobs, more education, better infrastructure and the safety of all is a priority for the government."
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