Remember the movie Con Air? I lived it. Well, sort of. I wasn’t a pumped-up Nicolas Cage flying home from prison with a stuffed bunny to meet my toddler daughter. I did, however, fly on a plane full of convicts to Honduras, then observed as they were released from their shackles and set free into the wild. I watched as they scattered in different directions and wondered where they would go and what they would do next. This week, I found out.
There is a surge of children fleeing Central America – from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – and arriving in America. They are little refugees seeking asylum from their country’s gang violence and hyper drug-fueled culture. And guess who created that culture? Irony can be a dangerous thing.
Most had known nothing but jail or prison life in the U.S. and had no ties to friends or family from their countries of origin. What we thought was a reasonable cost-cutting measure has turned out to be much more costly in the end.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Obama administration ridded itself of criminal aliens by sending them back to their countries. It seemed like a good idea at the time. We all but emptied our jails of these central American criminals, but now it’s coming back to haunt us. More than 100,000 criminal aliens were shipped back to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in those two years, while at least an equal number was sent back in the six years prior. And it’s estimated that as many as 200,000 more have been sent packing since.
They include convicts of all stripes: gang members, murderers, thieves, you name it. Most had known nothing but jail or prison life in the U.S. and had no ties to friends or family from their countries of origin. What we thought was a reasonable cost-cutting measure has turned out to be much more costly in the end.
We were once the recipients of a similar act. In 1980, Fidel Castro emptied many of his jails and mental health facilities and sent inmates packing to the U.S. The consequences were devastating. Like Honduras today, Florida’s crime rate soared. As for murders, the morgue in Miami became so crowded that county officials had to lease a refrigerated trailer from Burger King to handle all the bodies. There is, of course, an important distinction. Castro was sending away his own citizens. We weren’t.
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Regardless, the suddenly unchained men I watched walk off in Tegucigalpa have reportedly run wild. They embody the criminal enterprise that has turned Honduras into one of the most dangerous places on earth. They are, in large measure, what the children are running from.
Here’s how Francisco Portillo, the president of the Miami-based Morazán Honduran Organization, which assists Honduran families, described the situation to the Miami Herald. “I would say that these deportations are the most important factor behind the spread of criminal violence in our countries, which is the chief reason behind the children coming here,” he said.
It’s almost like that inane anti-Marijuana commercial where the father finds his son’s stash and asks him where he learned this stuff, and the child flatly tells him “by watching you.” Ever hear of the term blowback? Wikipedia defines the intelligence use of blowback as “unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government.” Think of giving Afghans guns and training rebels, only to inadvertently also train a young Osama Bin Laden.
Yes, America is once again experiencing a sort of blowback. No, we weren’t aggressors in this case, but the consequences are similar. So moving forward, what should we do? Should we continue to send hardened criminals into a country geographically close enough to send us their frightened citizens, their children?
Maybe the question to ask is this, Can tens of thousands of Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan mothers all be wrong? They ship their children to America because if they don’t, those children will either work for the drug gangs or be killed by them. I believe them. Why else would a woman send away her own flesh and blood? What else could cause her to do that if not the very men, the monsters that we now wish we had dealt with in a different way?
Critics would say we should never have deported them. But then, what? Do we keep them forever jailed on the U.S. taxpayers' dole? Do we send them even farther away, so that those they menace can’t make it to our border? Then, there are those who would suggest an even more heavy-handed solution. There are those, among them Hispanic immigrants who are tired of dealing with the consequences of these criminals' actions on their reputation in America, who would say "get rid of them in whatever way is necessary" —even if it means capital punishment.
My father, and many other hardworking immigrants, answer the question with a simple and well-known gesture that involves an index finger slowly rolled around the neck. “Cepíllalos,” they say. It may sound harsh, but as they see it, no one group does more harm to the image of law-abiding Latinos than those who come here to commit serious crimes.
Fact is, nobody despises immigrants who come here to commit crimes more than those who don’t.