KTEP - El Paso, Texas

What Hondurans In The U.S. Can Expect When They're Deported

May 10, 2018
Originally published on May 10, 2018 6:10 pm

U.S. immigration officials view Harold James Tatum as a Honduran but Tatum views himself as a New Yorker. Tatum was deported to Honduras 18 years ago but he says he's never really gotten used to it.

"I don't even know the national anthem of this country," says Tatum, sitting behind a table selling jewelry near the beach in Tela on Honduras' Caribbean coast.

"I feel like I'm more American than I am Hondureñan because everything that I do is American, you know." For instance his boom box is streaming the New York radio station 77 WABC. It's keeping him up to date on the latest twists in the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump saga.

Tatum, who's now 57, left Honduras with his family when he was six. He grew up in New York City and says all his habits are from the U.S.

"The stuff I buy to eat, the movies I watch, the music I listen to — it's like it's tattooed in me to be an American," he says.

But he never got around to applying for American citizenship. In the mid-1990s after serving five years in prison for a drug conviction, Tatum lost his legal residency in the U.S. and was deported to the country of his birth, Honduras.

It was not a happy homecoming. "Well I find it hard because there's no jobs here," he says. Over the years Tatum has managed to get some menial work. He worked for a while in the kitchen of a hotel, making $6 a day plus a plate of food. Then he got a job recruiting tourists to go on boat tours of the harbor. But none of those gigs lasted. Now he sells bracelets and necklaces by the beach. This keeps him busy but he says it doesn't pay enough to live on.

"I'm surviving through my brothers and sisters," he says of his siblings still back in New York. "They help me out. They send me money every month, pay my rent."

His brothers and sisters all became U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration last week terminated Temporary Protected Status for nearly 60,000 Hondurans who've been living in the U.S. for years and, according to the Center for Migration Studies, have 53,500 U.S.-born children.

TPS was granted to Hondurans in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch ravaged their country.

Now tens of thousands of other Hondurans could soon be following in Tatum's footsteps. The former TPS recipients could face deportation as early as January 2020.

This could be a major economic blow to the Central American nation.

Honduras is the second poorest country in the Americas. Its per capita income is $5,500 per year; only Haiti's is lower. The minimum wage is just over $1 an hour. The two largest cities Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula have recently been ranked as two of the most violent places in the world.

The Secretary of Homeland Security in a statement announcing the end of TPS for Hondurans said the crisis — Hurricane Mitch in 1998 — that prompted the U.S. to offer refuge to Hondurans no longer exists and thus their temporary immigration status should also end.

"Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the Secretary determined that the disruption of living conditions in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch that served as the basis for its TPS designation has decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial," Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen said in the announcement, "Thus, as required under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated."

Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California Santa Cruz, who specializes in Latin America and contemporary Honduran politics, says the Honduran economy is in shambles and is no position to take in tens of thousands of deportees.

"There's no way the economy can absorb them," she says. "I think there's almost no work available. I know hard-working, able-bodied people who love to work who haven't been able to find jobs for ten years. Then those people try to find work in the informal economy selling things on the side and now those people are being extorted by the gangs so they can't even do that." She calls the decision to end TPS "cruel."

Behind his collection of modestly priced jewelry, Tatum says the returnees have a tough road ahead of them.

And there's another looming economic problem. In 2016 Hondurans in the U.S. sent $3.4 billion back home to family and friends.

"And most of them been away from here for so long that they're slightly Americanized," he says. "Coming back here they're not going to be able to survive like they want to unless while they were there (in the U.S.) they were sending money here and possibly built a little house or something like that but otherwise they're going to have it hard."

It's definitely not like living in New York City.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The U.S. government is telling roughly 60,000 Honduran immigrants who have been in the U.S. for nearly two decades to wrap up their affairs here and head home. They've been here legally since 1999 after a hurricane struck their country. But the Trump administration last week terminated temporary protected status for Hondurans. That means these immigrants will be subject to deportation starting in January of 2020. NPR's Jason Beaubien was just in Honduras and spoke to a deportee about what those who return could face.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: U.S. immigration officials view Harold James Tatum as a Honduran. But Tatum views himself as a New Yorker. Selling jewelry near the beach in Tela on Honduras' Caribbean coast, Tatum is listening to a live stream of his favorite New York radio station, 77 WABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Every day, live, local, on it - Curtis and Cosby.

BEAUBIEN: Tatum was deported back to Honduras 18 years ago at the age of 39. But he says he's never really gotten used to it.

HAROLD JAMES TATUM: Yeah. I don't even know the national anthem of this country. So, you know, I feel like I'm more American than I am Honduranean 'cause everything that I do is American.

BEAUBIEN: Tatum left Honduras with his family when he was 6. He grew up in New York City and says all his habits are from the U.S.

TATUM: The way I eat, the stuff I buy to eat, the movies I watch, the music I listen to, I'm - it's like it's tattooed on me to be an American.

BEAUBIEN: But after getting convicted of selling drugs in the mid-1990s and serving five years in prison, Tatum lost his legal residency in the U.S. and got shipped down here to the country of his birth.

TATUM: Well, I find it hard 'cause there's no jobs here. And the ones that do have jobs, they're not leaving their jobs to let somebody else fill in for them, you know?

BEAUBIEN: He worked for a while in the kitchen of a hotel, making $6 a day plus a plate of food. Then he got a job recruiting tourists to go on boat tours of the harbor. But none of those gigs lasted. Now he sells bracelets and necklaces by the beach.

TATUM: Actually, I'm surviving through my brothers and sisters, which they help me out. They send me money every month, pay my rent, send money for food and other expenses.

BEAUBIEN: The end of temporary protected status for Hondurans means that tens of thousands of additional deportees could soon be following in Tatum's footsteps. And this could have a huge impact on the Central American country. Honduras is the second-poorest nation in the Americas ahead of Haiti. Hondurans living in the U.S. are a major source of revenue for the country. In 2016, they sent $3.4 billion from the U.S. back home to family and friends. Dana Frank, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz who's written extensively about Honduras, says there's no way the country can absorb tens of thousands of returnees.

DANA FRANK: I think there's almost no work available. I know hardworking, able-bodied people who love to work that haven't been able to find jobs for 10 years.

BEAUBIEN: The 57,000 Hondurans registered for TPS have just over 50,000 U.S.-born children, who may also end up going back to Honduras.

FRANK: It's not like these people are going to have a hard time getting by. They are not going to be able to get by.

BEAUBIEN: The minimum wage is just over $1 an hour. The two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, have been ranked among the most violent places in the world. Behind his display of jewelry in Tela, Tatum says for someone who is used to a U.S. lifestyle, Honduras is going to be a shock - at least that's how he's found it. Jason Beaubien, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.