January 30, 2019 — Highlighting migrants’ stories and advocating on their behalf has long been a priority for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. Given the hostile portrayal of migrants in debates around immigration today, it is more important than ever that the human dignity of migrants is upheld and respected.
Beginning during National Migration Week (January 6-12) and continuing over the next several weeks, the Office of Justice and Ecology will feature a series of stories profiling different types of migrants and their advocates. Throughout our work and the work of our partners, we encounter many inspiring people; these are a few of their stories.
Thousands of people gathered in the nation’s capital over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend to participate in a variety of protests and marches including the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the Indigenous People’s March. These events were evidence of one of the United States’ most cherished values – the right to peaceful protest. The story of Alberto López (his real name has been changed to protect his identity), demonstrates how in many parts of the world, such freedom is the exception rather than the rule.
Democracy and human rights have long struggled to survive in Honduras, a country marked by intermittent coups and military dictatorships. Such was the case yet again in 2009 when the military, acting on orders from the Honduran Supreme Court, ousted President Manuel Zelaya and temporarily exiled him to Costa Rica. While always interested in issues of democracy and free speech, it was at this point that Mr. López began his political activities in earnest. That year he joined a small neighborhood opposition group with whom he attended political meetings and protests. Becoming politically active certainly had its consequences. “I was excluded from job opportunities because of my political affiliation,” said Mr. López. During protests, military police acting on behalf of the ruling National Party often threw tear gas and hurled insults at Mr. López and his colleagues. While distributing political pamphlets in the lead-up to national elections, military police approached Mr. López and threatened him with jail time if he did not cease his political activities. They also took pictures of him during protests or while he was working as an elections monitor. Stories abounded of opposition leaders who were “disappeared” for their political activities and Mr. López feared the same fate would befall him. Yet he could not abandon his political activities; Honduras was about to head into its next major political crisis.
Despite allegations of electoral fraud, Juan Orlando Hernández was re-elected president in November 2017. Once again, Mr. López took to the streets in protest. During one protest shortly after the election results were announced, Mr. López sustained severe head and arm injuries requiring medical attention. After another close call in April last year during which military police chased Mr. López through the streets, he decided that for the sake of his own safety he needed to leave Honduras.
After enduring a difficult two-month journey, which included a dangerous ride atop La Bestia (a colloquial name for the freight train heading north through Mexico), being robbed of what little money he had, and briefly being kidnapped by a Mexican cartel, he arrived in Laredo, Texas on June 5, 2018. After successfully passing his initial screening interview, Mr. López was then transferred to an ICE detention facility in Baltimore, Maryland where he remained until his case was fully adjudicated six months later. Despite having no criminal record, Mr. López unexpectedly found himself in a detention facility that strongly resembled a jail. “I had to share everything,” said Mr. López. “My room -- even the bathroom. And the food was pretty bad.” Mr. López’s luck finally began to take a turn when immigration advocates visiting the detention center were able to match him with a pro-bono attorney working at a law firm in Washington D.C. With the help of his attorney, Mr. López’s application for asylum was finally accepted in December 2018.
Mr. López now lives in Miami, Florida, and while happy to be safely out of the reach of the Honduran military police, Mr. López often thinks of home. “I feel good, but I miss my family. That’s the hardest thing because I haven’t really got any other family here,” he says. Mr. López hopes he may be reunited with his family in the future, but in the meantime, he eases the pangs of loneliness by working a construction job during the day and taking English classes in the evening.
Mr. López would not have left Honduras had he not felt compelled to do so to save his own life. As another migrant caravan takes off from Honduras, one can’t help but wonder how many other Alberto Lópezes are in the group. How many others are walking towards the United States, in need of protection from a state that not only is unable to prevent violence, but perpetuates it against its own citizens? While debate over immigration policy in the United States rages on, one thing remains clear: people who genuinely fear returning to their home countries continue to arrive at the U.S. southern border and deserve access to due process of law, legal protections, and our hospitality.
Read more in this series:Humans of Migration: A Dreamer’s Story