SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — On the outskirts of the city, a few dozen people lingered near a shopping mall waiting for the bus from Tegucigalpa. It was supposed to arrive at midnight at this popular stop on the long journey to the United States, before heading north to Guatemala. But it was running late.
Would-be travelers paced the sidewalk, but most sat quietly along the curb or rested on beds made of cardboard.
“You have to be patient,” said Genson Aranda Pineda, 34, who estimated it would take him about two weeks to make it to the U.S.
Pineda, like his fellow travelers, had heard recent stories about families being forcibly separated at the U.S. border. But his reasons for leaving remained more persuasive: He doesn’t make enough money to support his family, and he's fed up with “all of the violence and corruption” here.
“I know about what [President] Trump is doing,” Pineda said. "I know he’s separating children. But I can't live like this, I can't live here. So what am I supposed to do?”
Violence and economic hardship were the motivating factors for many of those crowded around the San Pedro Sula bus stop in the dead of night this past Sunday.
Rivera Hernandez is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in one of the most dangerous countries in the Western Hemisphere. Each day several gangs, including MS-13, compete for power and influence here. National police patrol the streets every hour, confiscating weapons and rounding up gang members in a bid to curb the violence.
“We have the national police out here, on the streets, seven days a week, day and night,” said Carlos Arriaga, a police inspector who helps oversee the neighborhood. “It’s definitely had an impact."
But many Hondurans aren’t interested in waiting out the purge. Instead, like Pineda, they are escaping northward with their sights on the United States, where many before them have sought asylum and a better life.
Only now, they’re doing so with a new dimension of dread.
In early May, the Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy at the border, prosecuting anyone caught crossing over illegally. The policy shift resulted in the forced separation of thousands of migrant families, including more than 2,500 children, and sparked outrage at home and abroad. Facing bipartisan pressure, Trump walked back the controversial policy, but the U.S. government continues to threaten punitive measures on the border, and has struggled to reunite the vast majority of the children with their families.
"I know he’s separating children. But I can't live like this, I can't live here. So what am I supposed to do?”
The policy's ugly impact on the ground — stories of toddlers stripped from their parents, and babies in “tender-age” shelters — hasn't been lost on Hondurans. They read about it in the news or hear it from friends firsthand.
Yet for many, the worst-case scenario doesn’t seem to be imprisonment at the U.S. border but ending up back here, where they started. As many as 200 Honduran nationals are arriving each day after being deported from the United States.
Camilo Oyuela, who arrived on Tuesday, was first deported back in February after living in the United States for 10 years. He was caught trying to cross back over in March to be with his son, who still lives in California.
“I know parents who were separated from their children,” he said. “They didn’t know where they were, and when they asked, the [U.S.] officers said they didn’t know where they were either.”
Oyuela, who spent more than two months in jail, said he plans to try again in two or three months.
“My son is in California. I have to get to California,” he said.
Daniel Guity, 21, offered a similar outlook. He can’t find part-time work, and with a sick mother and no one else to help pay the bills, he feels like he has no choice but to take the journey.
“I didn’t want to do this. I’m still not sure if I will make it all the way, but I need money,” he said. “We need the money."