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Migrants meet militarized borders, kidnappers on dangerous chase of the ‘American Dream’

This past March, a group of Honduran migrants formed a large caravan fleeing Central America for the United States. President Joe Biden has incentivized Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to militarize their borders to stop the flow of migrants. Special correspondent Tania Rashid and Neil Brandvold report the dangers one man is running from, and the ones he faces during his attempt to get to the U.S.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One way the Biden administration is trying address the challenges posed by migrants crossing the border is by focusing on where the journey for many begins.

    The U.S. is offering incentives to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to better control their borders to stem the flow.

    Tania Rashid and Neil Brandvold report.

  • Tania Rashid:

    It's been eight days since Johan Guerra lost his job at a factory operating heavy textile machinery for the Canadian apparel maker Gildan. He was among 12 workers fired without severance after protesting for higher pay.

    He barely survived on $12 a day to support his wife, who also lost her job at the same factory, his sister, and his 3-year-old daughter. After back-to-back devastating hurricanes that struck Central America last year, the family lost their home and belongings and had to move in with an uncle.

    And a last brutality: Shortly after that, Johan's father was murdered by gang members in an attempted robbery. At just the age of 23, Johan is the sole breadwinner for a desperate family.

  • Juana Margarita Lopez Guerra (through translator):

    It's really difficult since my dad died. He's been a father to us. Since he was 9 years old, he's worked for all of us and our mother. He's the one who raised us.

  • Tania Rashid:

    They live under constant risk in Choloma, one of the most dangerous cities in Honduras, the murder capital of the world.

    Two gangs operate here, MS-13 and 18th Street, responsible for thousands of homicides this past year. Johan fears anything can happen to him at a moment's notice. He says his only way out is to go to United States, where a very different world awaits.

  • Johan Guerra (through translator):

    I have heard from friends what you make in Honduras in one year, you make in two months in the United States. There, you can go grocery shopping calmly. Here, they will assault you or can even kill you. Life there is so much better there for economic and security reasons. Everything is so much better.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Since February of this year, tens of thousands of Hondurans have organized on social media to join in caravans heading north. They're hastily formed, and Johan received information to meet at 6:00 a.m.

    He shares his last dinner with his family before he sets off on his trek.

  • Juana Margarita Lopez Guerra (through translator):

    It's really difficult because people talk about how dangerous the road is. But, with the trust in God, we know he will make it there OK.

  • Tania Rashid:

    The next day, several hundred people across the country took to the streets in the scorching sun, making their way to the Honduras-Guatemala border.

    Johan starts the first leg of his journey alone by walking, then hitching a ride on the back of a pickup truck, where he meets a group of young men. For hours, they take whatever vehicle they could find.

    Along the journey, Johan's hopes seemed high that he would make it to a more welcoming United States.

    What do you think of President Biden?

  • Johan Guerra (through translator):

    From what I hear in the news, he's a better president. He will give asylum. He will help, not like Donald Trump, who didn't want anyone to enter. This president, from what I have seen, is much different than Donald Trump, and he's different in a way for migrants.

  • Tania Rashid:

    So you're confident you're going to get asylum?

  • Johan Guerra (through translator):

    Whatever happens. Either I will get asylum or I will cross illegally. Whatever happens, the mission is to make it up north.

  • Tania Rashid:

    At the official border crossing at the Honduras-Guatemala border hundreds of people arrive, many families including mothers with newly born babies. Fights break out, as several migrants are stopped by Honduran authorities.

  • Man (through translator):

    We are not bothering anyone. I am paying with my own money.

  • Question:

    What are the police saying to you?

  • Man (through translator):

    That we should go back. We are migrants. They are saying: Here is the border.

    This is the problems with the Guatemalans. They don't want to let us in. We are Hondurans. How can we be illegals in Central America?

  • Question:

    Do you have documentation?

  • Man (through translator):

    Yes we have everything?

  • Question:

    But they are not letting you pass?

  • Man (through translator):

    They won't let me pass.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Frustrated families storm through and continue to walk. To avoid the military, Johan joins scores of migrants on an illegal path through the jungles to get to Guatemala.

    As they make their way, our team crossed official borders, where we arrived to a dramatic scene.

    The army are armed and vigilant. Because the government has declared a state of emergency, they have been given permission to use force on the migrants when they arrive.

    This deployment of security forces comes in the wake of a recent agreement made by the Biden administration with the Central American governments to militarize the Southern borders and to make the journey more difficult for migrants in this particular caravan.

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki:

    So, Mexico made the decision to maintain 10,000 troops at its southern border, resulting in twice as many daily migrant interdictions. Guatemala surged 1,500 police and military personnel to its southern border with Honduras. Honduras surged 7,000 police and military to disperse a large contingent of migrants.

  • Tania Rashid:

    As we drive through Guatemala, we see the Biden administration policy and coordination, as large groups of migrants are met with militarized checkpoints, stopping and detaining migrants along the trek.

    We are about four or five hours into the Guatemala-Honduras border, and the army has detained 45 migrants for illegally entering Guatemala. Many have been without food or water for four to five hours, and now they are about to be sent back to Honduras in trucks.

    In just a matter of minutes, they are taken away. Later that night, we hear from Johan.

    Just now, we have received this video footage of him trekking in the dead of the night through the jungle. And he sounds out of breath and exhausted. And shortly after that, he just now sent a text message right after that video saying that he is really scared and that half of the people he was with were kidnapped.

    And now we have tried to get in touch with him. I have called him several times, and we haven't heard anything back.

    As we continue to wait for news from Johan, we come across reports of other migrants kidnapped from the same caravan, a common danger for many heading north.

    So, we just got word that Johan is nearby, and he made it after all, and he's walking up right now.

    Is that him?

    It is. And he tells us about his harrowing journey.

  • Johan Guerra (through translator):

    I was afraid because it was dark, and there were three people that I didn't know. And I'm in a foreign country, and it's definitely not a good reason they are waiting for me.

    It scared me even more because they kidnapped the other people. I was also really afraid when I crossed the river. And halfway across the river, I was out of energy. But I prayed to God in the middle of the river that he would save me. The only thing that came to mind was the image of my daughter. And so that motivated me to make it to the edge of the river, and that's how I got out.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Johan tried to hitch a ride for the Guatemala-Mexico border with his group, but couldn't catch up to them on time.

  • Johan Guerra (through translator):

    Part of me is happy because nothing happened to me, like other people who leave the house looking for the American dream, and they lose a leg on the train, or when they are trying to cross a river, what almost happened to me, and they drown.

    On one hand, I'm happy, and, on the other hand, I'm really sad because I didn't reach my goal. Like they say, God knows what he does and why he does it. He has a purpose for every one of us. So, that is the mission, to try it again. Maybe right now wasn't my moment to pass. But if it is God's will that I make it to the USA, then I make it.

  • Tania Rashid:

    Afraid to continue the trek alone, he has decided to return to Honduras to rest, gather the strength and the courage to try again for the USA for a better life for them all.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Tania Rashid with Neil Brandvold in Guatemala.

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