McALLEN, RGV – The main reason the United States will see a lot less immigrants from Central America this year, as compared to last, is the heightened security on Mexico’s southern border, say consuls from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Allan Daniel Pérez Hernández is Guatemala’s consul in McAllen. Ana Bulnes is Honduras’ consul in McAllen. Ena Ursula Peña is El Salvador’s consul in McAllen. All three attended a news conference held hosted by the City of McAllen and Hidalgo County to discuss preparations for a potential surge of new immigrants this summer.

It is not going to happen, the three told the Rio Grande Guardian, at least nowhere near the extent of 2014’s numbers.

“We have seen great efforts from the Mexican government and they are stopping all these persons from coming through. It has been helpful for us because they are probably holding about 60 percent of the persons crossing. Only 40 percent are getting through,” Hernández said.

“Also, La Bestia, the train, is increasing its speed and security. You see a lot of persons are not coming through there.”

Sister Norma Pimentel
Sister Norma Pimentel

The vast majority of immigrant women and children who crossed into the United States last year and immediately gave themselves up to Border Patrol were from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Of these, only Guatemala borders Mexico.

Sister Norma Pimentel coordinates care for Catholic Charities at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. Last year, the refuge was seeing 200 to 300 immigrants a day. Currently, the numbers are down to 40, 50, 80 a day.

“What we are hearing from the immigrants we speak to is that there are a lot of apprehensions at the border, right before they cross into Mexico. They are telling us it is very difficult to get into Mexico,” Pimentel told the Rio Grande Guardian. “Some are still getting through, however. This year, Border Patrol is detaining most of the families, which was not the case last year. If they were releasing them, as they were last year, our numbers would be higher.”

Hernández, who represents Guatemala in McAllen, agreed that the Border Patrol’s policy of detaining immigrants was having an impact on the numbers attempting to travel north.

“You can see that a lot of family unit detention facilities have been opened. That sends the message that they (the immigrants) are not being given a free ticket as they were last summer. Last summer they (the U.S.) did not have the holding capacity. Now they do. Some of the people are asking, ‘Why am I being detained? My friend came through and she was released. Why am I being transferred?’ We say that is their (the U.S. government’s) decision.”

Peña, the consul for El Salvador in McAllen, said Mexico’s beefed up security on the southern border is a key factor impacting the number of immigrants heading north from Central America. However, she said it is not the only one.

“I think Mexico has a lot of resources now to do their job. We must find out what the numbers are. But, I also know that the work that El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are doing together to run advertising campaigns about immigration, telling the parents not to send their children alone, is working.”

Peña said El Salvador is also working to boost the economy and security. “There are a lot of factors impacting immigration. The economy has improved in the urban areas but not so much in the rural areas. So, we are still having people come from the farms. They do not see that the work on the land will be providing enough food for them and their children. We make a lot of effort to stop the immigration but on the other hand we sign out free trades and this impacts immigration.”

Bulnes, who represents Honduras in McAllen, said of the immigrants returned to her country, 70 percent are being deported from Mexico and 30 percent from the United States.

“The Honduras government is working very hard to improve the economy. It has been in office just 18 months and we are trying to restructure the government at the national level after a political crisis in which our people suffered greatly,” Bulnes said. “Also, there was erroneous information put out which raised expectations and hopes that if families migrated to the United States they would have a permission to stay. This was not the case and this added to the immigration emergency.”

Bulnes said Honduras is working with the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador to “create workspaces” and “create opportunities for the reintegration of mothers with children” who were deported from Mexico and United States.

“We are building the infrastructure to receive these people and give the children an opportunity to reintegrate into the educational system. We are also creating micro-enterprises for single mothers so they can generate jobs. We want our people to believe in themselves, to help our country and stay in Honduras,” Bulnes added.

Editor’s Note: In the main picture accompanying this story are three of the consuls from Central America that have offices in McAllen, Texas. Ana Bulnes is Honduras’ consul. Allan Daniel Pérez Hernández is Guatemala’s consul. Ena Ursula Peña is El Salvador’s consul.