MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Next up on The WORLD and Everything In It, border troubles continue to make headlines as migrants from Central America seek asylum in the United States. Most cite economic trouble as their reason to flee their home countries. Sometimes those money problems are connected to violence, particularly from gangs.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: To solve the problems on the ground there requires some long-term thinking here. To that end, the United States has appropriated about $800 million to beef up security efforts within Central America. But private groups are hard at work, too.
Jamie Dean is national editor for WORLD Magazine and has been covering this story.
Jamie, you looked at the problems that drive people out of countries in Central America, as well as what’s being done to solve problems at the source. So, why don’t we start with what are the problems there?
JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: Well, there are many problems, of course. We know, for example, that Honduras has historically had one of the highest murder rates in the world and that as many as 95 percent of those homicides go unsolved. And many of those homicides are driven by, really, the prolific gang culture that just permeates life in some of these Central American nations.
In many neighborhoods, gangs like Barrio 18 or MS-13 really rule these communities. One of the ways they do this is by requiring what’s known as a war tax. So, if you own a fruit stand or you drive a taxi or you have any other kind of small business that’s really common in these places, gangs will demand a fee from you, maybe every month, maybe every week, just for the right to do business.
So, if they can’t afford it, they face threats, they face violence and they often flee to try to protect their families and to be able to make a living. Many go to another part of town. Some go to another part of the country, but the reality of those gangs follows them there, too.
One missionary I spoke with said Hondurans are aware of the danger of trying to travel from Honduras into America, but some of them think it’s more dangerous to actually stay in Honduras.
REICHARD: And how is all of this affecting young people there?
DEAN: Well, you know, sadly many of them are forcibly recruited into this lifestyle. Gangs start recruiting little boys as young as 6 years old to run errands and maybe eventually to run drugs to customers in the city. Not all of those kids will become gang members, but many of them do feel like they don’t have a lot of other options if a violent gang is insisting that they join. So, that’s another factor that causes some families to flee when their children start reaching the teenage years, and they worry that their sons or even their daughters will become the next recruits.
REICHARD: Well, I’m wondering what are some ways that people are trying to help the problems there on the ground?
DEAN: Well, there are a lot of missionaries and local projects in Honduras. I spent some time learning about just two of them.
One is a ministry called the Micah Project, and it’s a Christian home for boys living on the streets. The founder of that ministry, a man named Michael Miller, talked about how many of the boys that they have taken in have been living on the streets for years. Some of them have fled some of this violence that we’ve been talking about, some of them have fled problems in their homes. But they take these boys in and they get them rehab if they need it. Some of them have drug problems. They start them in a homeschool program. They basically try to provide a home for them, and over the course of the years, orient them on how to be a productive citizen right where they live.
Another group I spoke with directly addresses the problems associated with crimes. It’s a Christian group called the Association for a More Just Society. When they hear of a homicide in one of these really dangerous neighborhoods, they send in a team, a three-person team that includes a Christian counselor to help the family that’s grieving, a private investigator to help the police, and an attorney to help the prosecutors.
REICHARD: What’s been the result?
DEAN: Well, they say that they have a 40 percent success rate in helping to solve these murders, which is far greater than this five percent success rate we’ve heard about in recent years.
REICHARD: Well, I imagine this is very dangerous work, though. No?
DEAN: It certainly can be. I mean, the leader of the group I was just speaking with said they’re very careful and very low-key when they enter into neighborhoods or they meet with witnesses. A lot of what they do is just convincing witnesses to be willing to testify. But it is still dangerous, and these are risks that they’ve just been willing to take. One of this group’s workers accepted an invitation to be on a task force that was trying to purge the city’s corrupt police force. I mean, that was a tremendous undertaking and it was successful in many ways, actually, but this man received a direct death threat to him and to his family.
But this man said, you know, to be a brave Christian, you have to do more than criticize. And I think that was one of the really inspiring things to me is I learned about the people who are staying in Central America and trying to help others stay there safely. And I think those are really important efforts for us to be aware of, partly because until things really change in some of these countries, people are going to continue leaving them.
REICHARD: Jamie Dean, national editor for WORLD Magazine. Jamie, thanks so much!
DEAN: Thank you, Mary.