La Bestia's victims and the desperate quest to reach North America

I�ve written about how desperate Hondurans are to make it to North America, about the risks they take, including riding La Bestia, a freight line through Mexico.
Early yesterday morning, the train derailed. The stories are still developing, but people died, were maimed and are missing. The papers say about 250 Hondurans among the hundreds riding on top and between the freight cars. One man quoted said the people who died had tied themselves to the train for safety, and couldn�t jump during the slow-motion wreck.
None of this will slow the hundreds of Hondurans who leave every day to try to get to the U.S. 
The trip was already known to be hellish. Robbery, rape and kidnapping are common along the train route (especially on the train). Many migrants are poor, and end up walking for days with no food.
And even if the migrants reach the U.S., chances of getting in are slim.
Yet the U.S. Immigration Service estimates 105,000 Hondurans set out for the U.S. each year. The U.S. Border Patrol arrests about 26,000 a year and an unknown number don�t make it that far. About 600 Hondurans a week are flown back to San Pedro Sula. Many turn around and start the journey again. (Others are recruited to work in the call-centre industry here, as they have reasonable English skills.)
A long way, I noted in a recent blog post, from the Statue of Liberty�s �Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free.� Or from my grandparents� ability to move to Canada in search of better opportunity than they had back in England.
Canada doesn�t figure as much in migrant dreams, mostly because it�s just too far away and unknown.
But a lot of Hondurans I meet are keen to work there, and ask about the possibility. (Slim, I have to say. There are about 1,200 Hondurans in Canada on two-year visas under the temporary foreign worker program.)
Last month, predatory Honduran scum exploited dreams of an opportunity in Canada, promising some 800 people in our region jobs and transportation if they were paid $500. The desperately hopeful Hondurans borrowed, sold possessions risked everything. When they showed up on the appointed day for the buses to the airport, the scammers were gone. 
Remittances from Hondurans working abroad - mostly in the U.S.,  mostly illegal - were $1.5 billion for the first half of this year. 
That�s almost 17 per cent of Honduras� GDP. If the money stopped flowing, per-capita GDP per capita would fall from $2,260 to $1,890. (GDP per capita in Canada is just over $50,000.) 
The money sent home keeps families afloat, lets them buy a little land to farm, provides the stake for starting a small business. And the experience allows migrants to return with a new perspective and skills that can transform communities.
The Canadian arguments about immigration and temporary workers are legitimate. 
But people are literally dying for the chance to spend even a few years in North America. Allowing a few thousand Hondurans to work in Canada could make a great difference for them, and the country, at a manageable cost.

Desperate people, Canadian dreams and the lowest kind of predators

Backpacks ready for a trip to Canada that won't happen
Heartbreaking photo in La Prensa this week of devastated campesinos who had showed up in Santa Rosa de Copan expecting to start a trip that would end with legit Canadian jobs.
The best way to change your future in Honduras is to find a way to work in North America for a few years. You can send money home and save enough to buy some land or start a little business. (The second fastest way to change your future, I suppose, is the drug transport business.)
But when the would-be migrant workers showed up to board the buses that were to take them to the Tegucigalpa airport, they found out they had been ripped off. There were no buses, no waiting jobs picking apples and grapes. The office was empty.
The scam was elaborate. Radio stations ran ads about the job program, including here in Copan Ruinas. (I didn�t hear them.) The crooks had a good story about having already placed 19,000 workers. They had an office, and answered any queries or calls. They gave official receipts and itineraries. (And most of the victims were illiterate, or barely literate, and had no way to check the legitimacy.)
At the police station
Some 800 people paid about $500 each to get access to Canada. That�s a huge amount. Not only are their dreams shattered, but their lives in Honduras have been dealt a huge blow. 
Jos� Antonio Arita, a farmer in Corqu�n, a remote village in the hills, told La Prensa he rushed to the job office in Santa Rosa when he heard about the opportunity. He sold his chain saw to help cover the cost. No saw means no income from selling firewood.
Jose Antonio Ramirez and his brother Hugo Ren� both lost all their savings. The fact the offer was on the radio and the nice, fully staffed office convinced them the opportunity was real.
Until they showed up, with small backpacks of clothes and keepsakes, and found there were no buses and the office was locked up.
There are lots of arguments about temporary foreign workers in Canada, some legitimate, some not. About 1,200 Hondurans are currently in the country as temporary workers, doing jobs in the meatpacking plants and the like.
But the story is a good reminder of how desperate Hondurans are for better lives, and how easily Canada could help simply by giving them a chance to work for a couple of years.

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