Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 4.9.21
Just Outside Washington



What's happening at the border?

In 1994 the average daily population of detained immigrants was 7,000, which rose to over 50,000 in 2019 and it is anticipated that a record of 2 million migrants will reach the border this year. Now, the detention system captures and about 500,000 immigrants each year.

During this period, concurrent with the strategy of concentrated border enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border, the annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is part of Customs and Border Patrol (CPB), increased more than ten-fold, from $363 million to $4.7 billion. In addition, since the creation of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spending nearly tripled, from $3.3 billion to $8.3 billion today. Much of this funding has gone to increasing the agency's ability to hold immigrants in detention at the border and around the country.

Why is this going on?

We hear conflicting stories, which attribute the cause to many different factors: climate change, corruption, gangs, etc. Also, people are coming from many countries; about 90 percent come from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, and Mexico, with 10 percent from other countries such as Africa and Asia.

To narrow this down, let's look at Honduras. First, how many apprehended people come from Honduras? See Figure 1.

Apprehensions of people from Honduras by U.S. CBP

Wow, that is a big increase, and families make up more than half of the migrants. This increase brought Honduras from about 4 percent of the apprehensions in 2006 to 17 percent in 2019.

Honduras is south and east of Mexico, north of Nicaragua, and has ports on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 9.2 million people with a life expectancy of 72 years, ranking 111th in the world.

With a land area of 112,090 sq km (about the size of Tennessee), elevations range from sea level to 2,870 m (9,420 ft) at the top of Cerro Las Minas, its highest mountain[i]. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and suffers from highly unequal distribution of income, as well as significant underemployment.

Approximately 20 percent of its GDP $52 billion (2017 est.) comes from the traditional exports of sugar, bananas, and coffee. Thirty five percent of this income is from exports to the U.S. and 25 percent to Europe. This yields a GDP per capita (Purchasing Power Parity) of $5,600[ii] and a Gini Index coefficient, which shows the distribution of family income, of 52.1, ranking Honduras the world's 10th worst.

Honduras serves as a transshipment point for drugs and narcotics; this off-the-books source of income contributes to its corruption problems.

In February, the Southern District of New York federal prosecutors said Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado, President of Honduras, was the target of an investigation, along with other "high-ranking officials". Prosecutors allege he "accepted millions of dollars in drug-trafficking proceeds and, in exchange, promised drug traffickers protection from prosecutors, law enforcement, and extradition to the United States."

Further, his brother, a former Honduran congressman, was sentenced to life in prison for drug trafficking and weapons charges by a U.S. judge in March.

Control of illegal activities in Honduras lies in the hands of local criminal groups like MS13 and Barrio 18[iii], which are connected to the political and economic elite. The judicial system is subject to political intervention and corruption, and the police are one of the most corrupt in Latin America.

But wait, we are not done yet.

Since 2015, droughts driven by El Nino have plagued Honduras, which caused crop losses of 50 to 75 percent impacting small-scale subsistence farmers in the region. If that were not enough, the drought was accompanied by severe storms and hurricanes.

In 2010 Tropical Storm Matthew hit Honduras with high winds and heavy rain, causing flooding, landslides, destroying homes and infrastructure and killing 15 people. This was followed by Tropical Storms Paula, Richard, Harvey, Barry, and Earl, causing similar results.

In November 2020, two Category 4 hurricanes -- Eta and Iota -- hit Honduras within two weeks and dropped enormous amounts of water on already saturated hillsides. This caused massive flooding, which destroyed bridges, roads, schools, and health clinics. Families lost their homes, farms, and businesses to floodwaters. Landslides packed small downtown plazas with mud. The region continues to dig out from mudslides.

All of that sounds like being trapped in a bad dream that repeats over and over. If it were me and you, and we could get some "trafficker" to take us out; what choice would you make? What if you had to borrow money to pay the trafficker?

CIA World Fact Book for the data. [1] Converted to wages using a 2080 hour working year, results in a family wage of $2.69 per hour. [1] These gangs originated in Los Angeles, CA, in the 1970s and 1980s. Originally, the gang was set up to protect Salvadoran immigrants and grew into more traditional criminal organizations. MS-13 members were deported to El Salvador its civil war in 1992, spread of the gang to Central America. Wikipedia